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UNR allocates up to $12 million to Wolf Pack athletics to cover COVID-19 shortfall

Nevada basketball
The lack of attendance in revenue sports like football and men's basketball dug a big financial hole for Nevada athletics in fiscal year 2021. (David Calvert/Nevada athletics)

The University of Nevada is allocating up to $12 million to the Wolf Pack athletic department to cover a planned 2021 fiscal year shortfall created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both Nevada and UNLV will present their annual athletic reports to the Nevada Board of Regents during the group's June 10-11 meeting in Las Vegas. The meeting agenda was posted by the Regents on Wednesday. Nevada Sports Net reviewed the Wolf Pack's 676-page review, which largely focuses on the 2019-20 fiscal year.

On page 37 of the review, the university writes that there is an institutional commitment of up to $12 million to athletics.

"Continuing to provide student athletes the opportunities to compete under modified schedules saw some reduction in costs but not enough to offset the loss of ticket sales revenue ($9M), game guarantee revenue ($1.73M), and the impact on other revenue sources associated with completing games (e.g. concessions, royalties, marketing and the possible reduction of revenue generated through the MW Conference which is still currently unknown)," the review read.

NSN requested an interview with Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth but was told he was not available to discuss the matter. The Wolf Pack did offer NSN a statement from the university. It read:

"The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating financial impact on ICA (intercollegiate athletics), including a drastic decline in ticket sales, conference revenue, sponsorships, guarantee games, donations, and unforeseen costs related to COVID testing. UNR has allocated $10 million from the recent (this spring) Board of Regents distribution of investment income towards this shortfall. UNR has also earmarked an additional up to $2 million from investment income in the event of further impacts to conference distributions, fundraising, etc., occur in FY21."

Nevada said that would be the only public comment from Knuth or Wolf Pack athletics on the matter at this time.

Shortly after the pandemic hit, Knuth projected an estimated shortfall of $10 million, which led to a number of layoffs within the department. The Wolf Pack played shortened seasons in 2020-21 in the revenue sports of football and men's basketball and was unable to have robust attendance for either sport due to COVID-19. Ticket sales and non-conference football games fund a big portion of Wolf Pack athletics. For example, Nevada football's 2020 non-conference game at Arkansas was supposed to pay the athletic department $1.6 million. But that game was canceled with a Mountain West-only schedule being played.

Per its Board of Regent filing, Wolf Pack athletics projects a $7,416,204 budget shortfall for fiscal year 2021, which doesn't close until the end of June. The Wolf Pack has run major deficits over the last decade and had a $2 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2020, which Knuth attributed to (1) declining revenue in football and basketball tickets sales; (2) the impact of COVID-19 late last fiscal year; and (3) an unexpected payment being due on a $3 million renovation of Mackay Stadium to make it ADA compliant.

That was the second $2 million-plus budget shortfall for the Wolf Pack in a four-year period from 2017-2020 that preceded this year's unprecedent financial losses in college athletics. Before the start of this fiscal year, Nevada athletics had run $5.9 million in accumulated debt. That was after the university took over $8.25 million of historic debt/deferral in the 2019 fiscal year, which left Nevada athletics with only $3.9 million in debt entering fiscal year 2020.

In its report to the Board of Regents, the Wolf Pack said its total COVID-19-related expenses in fiscal year 2021 were $215,000, which does not include testing costs that are invoiced by the MW with an anticipated cost to Nevada of close to $160,000. The Wolf Pack is expecting a return to normalcy for the 2021-22 athletic season with full-capacity crowds, a must to avoid another major financial shortfall.

"We have made the assumption of a return to normal operations," the Wolf Pack wrote in the Regents filing. "We recognize that there is potential for COVID19 to have a lasting impact on our operation, however, there is not enough data or information to accurately project what that impact may be. ICA will continue to closely monitor the impact and put in place restrictions and cuts to operate as efficiently as possible."

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