UNLV’s athletic department has made a 15 percent reduction to its 2020-21 operating budget, athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois said Tuesday, amounting to $1.7 million.
The cuts, made in response to the financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down athletic events throughout the country, were mostly in travel expenses.
Any salary reductions would be made at the university and state levels. Other budget cuts for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, also are being considered, but eliminating sports is not under discussion at this time.
“As long as we put (athletes’) safety and their wellness as our top priority as well as our staff and protecting our global Rebel community, we’re going to be OK,” Reed-Francois said. “This is a challenge, this is difficult, but we’ll get through it.
”There are a lot of unknowns and uncertainty is hard, but in times of uncertainty, you have to go back to your core values and that’s what we’re doing.”
UNLV joins a line of athletic departments and conferences that have instituted budget cuts after cancellation of revenue-producing events. The Mid-American Conference announced Tuesday that eight sports will not conduct postseason tournaments and nine others would have their events altered.
Reed-Francois is trying to plan not knowing if fall sports, including football, will start on time or be interrupted by a second wave of the coronavirus. One possibility is moving all fall sports to 2021.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has said it would be difficult to invite athletes back to campus if the general student population is taking online-only classes.
The California State University system announced Tuesday that fall classes will be conducted mostly online. Three Cal State schools — Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State — are Mountain West members.
“That just illustrates how quickly things are changing,” Reed-Francois said. “There’s no playbook for handling a global pandemic.”
Reed-Francois said the hope is that UNLV executive athletic department staff and head coaches will begin to return to their on-campus offices June 15, which would be the first of a phased-in approach.
“We’re also very cognizant of our vulnerable populations as defined by the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” Reed-Francois said. “We also have to be mindful of staff members that are caring for vulnerable populations. We’re going to err on the side of being cautious and compassionate.”
Recovery plans forming
Four athletic department subcommittees have been formed to address different parts of the shutdown — facilities, return of staff to campus, return of athletes to practice and competition, and return of fans to events. Each subcommittee is responsible for creating a “recovery plan” for the general athletic department task force to vet and then pass along to the university.
Reed-Francois, student-athlete engagement specialist Sarah Wattenberg and Thomas & Mack Center/Sam Boyd Stadium executive director Mike Newcomb serve on the university’s COVID-19 task force, which guides the school’s overall preparation for a return to more normal operations.
UNLV, Reed-Francois said, would adhere to directives from Gov. Steve Sisolak and other state officials, as well as follow national guidelines and work with the NCAA and the Mountain West.
“Our approach has been to be thoughtful and methodical, listening to the experts and crafting the best path forward with the information we have at hand,” Reed-Francois said. “This is an ongoing decision-making process.”
UNLV athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois did not directly address reports that she is a leading candidate for the same position at UCLA.
“My focus is on UNLV,” she said. “My practice always has been and continues to be to refrain from addressing speculation about other universities’ processes.”
UCLA is expected to announce a new athletic director soon. Current AD Dan Guerrero retires July 1.
— Mark Anderson