Gene Smith walks on the field at Ohio Stadium before a game

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith stands on the field prior to the Buckeyes’ season-opening 49-21 win over Indiana on Aug. 31, 2017 in Bloomington, Indiana. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Former Sports Editor

While feeling the economic effects of the COVID-19, Ohio State’s Department of Athletics has put a plan in place for the 2021 fiscal year.

Ohio State announced today in a press release that the Athletics Department’s new budget will focus on mitigating the $107 million dollar loss that it is projecting. The budget looks to save money through department-wide budget cuts, furloughs and labor reductions, including the elimination of 25 full-time athletics positions, the release stated. The Athletics Department is projecting to make $73 million in revenue in the 2021 fiscal year, however the projection does not include profits made from media rights. 

While the budget will include labor and budgetary constrictions, all 36 sports at Ohio State will remain intact. Student-athletes will still have access to fully funded support services, resources and the grant-in-aid program will remain, according to the release. 

The budget includes $25 million for student-athlete scholarships, $3.6 million for student-athlete academic support, $3 million for meals and nutrition and $1.8 million for sports medicine and psychology services. 

“Our student-athletes are our primary responsibility,” Athletic Director Gene Smith said in the release. “They have and will continue to come first. We have put together a responsible and conservative budget for this fiscal year, which assumes full support for our student-athletes. In the midst of this devastating pandemic, we remain committed to providing a safe and excellent academic and athletic experience for all of our student-athletes.”

Smith said the Department of Athletics will follow a long-term debt recovery plan –– creating a need for a debt recovery section in the fiscal plans for the coming years. 

In terms of loans, Smith said that a loan of a yet-to-be determined amount could come internally from the university, but he will have to negotiate to make it an interest-free loan. 

“We’re going to do our best to develop a long-range plan, so we’ll maintain our self-supporting status because we’ll pay back our debt,” Smith said in a Zoom call with media members. 

Smith said that in his time as director of athletics at Eastern Michigan, debts were covered by the institution, but he said the Ohio State Department of Athletics wants to maintain its self-sufficient status –– held by approximately 20 athletic departments in the country.

“We don’t want to be a burden to the institution. We want to be an asset,” Smith said.  

Despite keeping all sports afloat, the budget states that 25 full-time positions would be eliminated, while 345 athletic department staff members will have to complete a furlough of some length. Forty-seven contracted staff members will be asked to take a 5 percent salary reduction between Oct. 1 and June 30, 2021, the statement reads.

Ohio State football coach Ryan Day and men’s basketball coach Chris Holtmann are among the contracted staff members asked to take the pay cut. Smith said that he anticipates both coaches to accept the cut and that he is “100 percent” comfortable with the amount. 

The personnel adjustments are expected to save the athletic department $7 million.

Without the reinstated fall football season, Smith said that the personnel adjustments could have been much more extensive. 

“Our furlough and reduction in force plan was significantly more challenging prior to the announcement that football would come back,” Smith said. “We decided that we had a chance for it to be available in the fall, so we held out and we reduced the impact significantly.” 

Prior to the start of the 2021 fiscal year, the athletic department saved $5.6 million due to the elimination of travel, a hiring freeze while not filling vacant positions, a halt in  merit increases, a pause on faculty projects and by operating on a restricted budget. 

The release states that the athletic department will implement expense reductions in order to save money. These reductions include a $9.6 million in savings through a reduction on debt in the short-term, $6.1 million in budget cuts from sports’ operating budgets, $4 million on administration and support unit operating budgets, $3.4 million in football game day expenses.

The department is expected to save $3 million dollars from non-conference game guarantees and will reduce spending by $3 million in facility operations. 

“Like our colleagues in the Big Ten, and across the country, intercollegiate athletics at Ohio State will have to significantly adjust as the pandemic will have a long term impact,” Smith said. “We will implement a long term deficit recovery plan but will continue to focus on serving our student-athletes at the highest level.”

This story was updated at 12:52 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 23 with quotes and relevant information from a conference call with Gene Smith.