CEDAR FALLS – Shortly after announcing multiple cost-saving measures in response to an expected budget shortfall of more than $1 million, the University of Northern Iowa athletic department was handed another setback Thursday afternoon.
The Big Ten Conference announced that it would move to a conference-only schedule for all fall sports, including football.
That means the Panthers’ game at Kinnick Stadium on Sept. 5 against Iowa is now officially off the table. It also means UNI will not receive the $650,000 payday it was going to receive for playing the Hawkeyes.
There was a $300,000 buyout of the game, but according to the Athletic’s Scott Dochterman there was a clause in the contract that allows for “Act of God and nature, strikes, war or any other unusual occurrence beyond the control of the party” to void the game without financial penalty.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Big Ten has chosen to compete in conference only games this fall,” UNI’s director of athletics David Harris said in a prepared statement. “This will eliminate opportunities for several of our sports programs. The cancellation of our football game against the University of Iowa has a significant financial impact on our department. However, we will continue to prepare for the upcoming seasons of competition and support our student-athletes during this challenging time.”
Harris later Tweeted, “We will continue to prove that we are tougher than our circumstances. Thank you to all of our fans for your loyalty and support. We continue to work, plan and move forward. #UNIFight“
UNI’s opening 2020 football game now shifts at Idaho State on Sept. 12 and its first home game will be Sept. 19 when it is scheduled to host Weber State inside the UNI-Dome.
UNI’s total athletic budget runs in the neighborhood of $14.4 million and the football program operates annually at a more than $2 million loss even when the university hits financial targets.
In addition to football, UNI volleyball will lose previously scheduled games against Big Ten powers Minnesota and Illinois.
Earlier Thursday, Harris announced that UNI staff and coaches will take temporary salary reductions for fiscal year 2021. Additionally, all contract incentives for head coaches and Harris will be suspended for the fiscal year.
“We understand that these temporary reductions will be challenging for our staff and coaches, and we feel fortunate to have a team of staff members that understand the unprecedented situation that we face,” Harris said. “Our goals are to minimize the impact to our student-athletes, protect our human resources and emerge from this pandemic on strong fiscal footing.
“Our staff has proven that we can adapt and overcome challenges in previous years, and this year will likely be our most significant challenge to date. However, we will face this challenge together and help our student-athletes succeed. We look forward to another successful year in 2020-2021.”
Salary reductions impact all employees making over $41,000 annually. The reductions begin at 12.5% for the highest-paid employees to 5% on the lowest tiers.
Estimated revenue reductions include NCAA and Missouri Valley Conference distributions, university general fund and student fee support as well as ticket and concession revenue based on reduced capacity in arenas because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UNI athletics department plans to soon release information on guidelines and protocols for fans attending games during the upcoming year.