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University of Akron recommends 20 percent budget cut for athletics in new master plan

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The cuts, projected for fiscal year 2021, could dramatically affect structure of the athletics department.

James A. Rhodes Arena Whiteout (Akron Athletics)

The University of Akron released a prepared address regarding its academic master plan on Thursday afternoon, and it could have ramifications for Akron sporting programs.

The address, titled “Redesigning our University,” promised to ensure the long-term viability of the university by making it a “leaner” and “more focused” program. University of Akron president Gary L. Miller acknowledged that his recommendations had been in the works since before the coronavirus pandemic began, but that the pandemic had “increased the urgency of fulfilling these promises.”

Amongst the recommendations Miller put forth was a significant reduction in budget for the athletic department:

There has been a lot of uncertainty in the collegiate sporting world about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the spring and fall sporting seasons, and Ohio has been a bit of a testing ground for a post-coronavirus world.

Ohio was one of the first states to engage in stay-in-place orders following the COVID-19 outbreak, due in part to infected parties playing in Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. The University of Cincinatti recently discontinued their men’s soccer program, while Urbana University, formerly of NCAA Division II, permanently shuttered its physical campus, culling 17 varsity sports teams in the process.

Akron currently hosts 19 varsity sports, counting baseball (which is funded exclusively by donations.) To remain in NCAA Division I standing, they need 17 varsity sports offered. It’s a bleak picture for the athletic department, with major, sweeping changes all but certain for the program.

These changes, ultimatley unavoidable, are due in part to Akron as an university in general suffering from debt and overexpansion even before the pandemic hit. As of 2015, the university was looking at $487 million of debt, due in part to massive undertakings by the previous president to update and expand the campus via construction.

With a reported operating budget of $319 million in 2019 and expenses at approximately $295 million, such expansion has become fairly unsustainable, especially in the light of a significant decrease in student enrollments and increased tuition and fees costs. (Tuition increased 1.5 percent from 2018 levels in 2019, while enrollments dropped six percent in 2019 from the previous year.)

The university has been formulating cuts since at least 2018 under the prior administrative leadership, with the atheletic department already dealing with an $8 million reduction in subsidies from the university under the previous “Action Plan.”

Akron, in particular, has been in a rather unsteady place in terms of their budget in recent years, famously cutting its beloved baseball team back in 2015 before resurrecting it this past season. Akron spent $34.9 million on athletics, with 70 percent of that budget supported via a $24.3 million subsidy, per Cleveland.com’s Data Center, placing it amongst the top of the state’s public universities. Akron actually topped the state in expenses in fiscal year 2017, even without baseball as a sponsored sport.

Some of the athletic buget budget goes towards making payments and repairs to Akron’s InfoCision Stadium, which hosts multiple sports. As of fiscal year 2015, loan payments on the stadium totalled $4.4 million, with 94 percent of the stadium debt apportioned to the athletics budget.

It’s safe to assume the budget is still around that amount, so a 20 percent cut from $34.9 million would put the new mark at around $27.92 million. If you assume only the university subsidy is affected, the mark is even less, coming in at $19.44 million.

There has been no other news as of yet of what the fallout could be, but as this story develops, we will update accordingly.

President Miller’s entire address can be watched here: