Presser Bullets: Gene Smith Discusses Ohio State's Decision To Make Budget Cuts While Keeping All 36 Sports

By Colin Hass-Hill on September 23, 2020 at 12:27 pm

Just an hour and a half after Ohio State announced budget cuts, including furloughs and layoffs, athletic director Gene Smith hopped on a Zoom call with reporters to explain them. He detailed the pay cuts, a still-uncertain budget and more.

The bullet points from his question-and-answer session:

Gene Smith

  • Smith says the primary objective in the personnel management space was to try to protect the needs of the athletes. That's the reason, he says, they kept all four members of the sports psychology team away from layoffs or furloughs.
  • The ongoing training and testing is the main reason for those only taking five-day furloughs getting only a week's worth of furlough.
  • Smith says it was a challenging day when the decisions were made on Tuesday.
  • Smith says Ryan Day and Chris Holtmann are among those who will take voluntary 5 percent pay cuts. He's "100 percent" comfortable with them only taking 5 percent reductions in pay.
  • "Our budget is uncertain." He says the numbers "mean nothing at this point relative to accuracy." He notes that the media rights money the athletic department will bring in is not included in the $107 million deficit. 
  • "We don't have clarity on basketball. We made some assumptions there." He says he hopes to have some clarity on the schedule in the next few weeks. "Those numbers are guesstimates. The sponsorship numbers are guesstimates."
  • Smith says they waited this long to make personnel decisions because of the uncertainty about the fate of football.
  • "At the end of the day, the numbers are estimates. So I just wanted to share that."
  • Smith says he's hopeful there will be double-digit home basketball games but that's uncertain. The attendance, however, will be "zero or significantly less depending on what's happening at that time with the virus."
  • They won't have concert or parking revenue, he says.
  • On whether there's any chance they cut sports: "Right now, that's not a major conversation."
  • Smith says a "supermajority" of certain sports have students paying their own way, so "it's an interesting math issue" when thinking about how much money would be saved by cutting sports.
  • On the athletic department: "We've been self-supporting and we'll continue to be self-supporting."
  • Even though the Big Ten listed Smith as a member of the television subcommittee on the conference's Return to Competition Task Force, Smith said he actually did not serve on that committee, and he doesn't know what the TV revenue for this year is going to end up being.
  • Smith says they're going to take out a loan, which will be internal and "it could have interest." He'll negotiate for it to be an interest-free loan.
  • He says the decision-makers wanted all contract employees in the athletic department to take the same pay cuts, which is why the highest-earning coaches have 5 percent pay cuts the same way everybody else does.
  • "Everything we do now is being rethought." It has caused them to think differently "about a whole bunch of things."
  • Smith says Ohio State has been doing a "reduction in force" since last year, knowing it needed to "reduce our head count" since then. The pandemic has expedited their plan, he says.
  • The athletic department held out for football to be played this fall and "reduced the impact (of job eliminations and furloughs) significantly" with it being played.
  • Smith says Ohio State is still negotiating with Bowling Green and Buffalo about this year's canceled non-conference football games, but if they can't work something out, they will make the guaranteed payouts to those schools from the media rights revenue they receive. He also says this will not affect Ohio State's relationship with the MAC.
  • He says Ohio State has never had to take out a loan like this since he's been in charge. 
  • No coaches were among the 25 people whose jobs got eliminated.
  • Smith says he hasn't explored taking a loan out from someone outside of the school because he's comfortable with working with Ohio State's CFO.
  • "We don't want to be a burden. We want to be an asset." He says there's a focus on the athletic department remaining that way.
  • Smith says they can't go into Ohio State's endowment because that money is already allocated elsewhere in the university. 
  • He says he understands why some believe there should be a "rainy-day fund" put aside for the athletic department. But, Smith says, that's something "philosophically I just don't support."
  • What will basketball look like this season? "Five-on-five with a ball and officials."
  • Smith says the football team might bus to East Lansing or fly in and out in a single day this fall. In certain areas, he says, the football team has already cut some money. "There's a lot of things that we could look at and will."
  • He says he expects all athletic departments to make some cuts.
  • "One of the things I don't want to do is negotiate in public with our partners."
  • As soon as Ohio State has clarity on basketball and the media rights, along with clarity on what the spring sport schedules will look like, they'll have more answers on the budget.
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