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U of A Athletics letter to coaches and supporters spells doom and gloom amid COVID-19 crisis

University of Alberta athletics director Ian Reade.
University of Alberta athletics director Ian Reade.

Warmer weather may finally be here, but the financial forecast for University of Alberta Athletics is nothing short of doom and gloom on the foreseeable horizon.

In a letter obtained in its entirety by Postmedia sent Wednesday morning to Golden Bears and Pandas coaches, sponsors, donors, volunteers and alumni, U of A athletics director Dr. Ian Reade outlined the impact the current COVID-19 crisis is expected to have on what has already been a difficult economic environment for the university’s sports and recreation programs.

“The potential impact on Athletics for the 2020-21 fiscal year could reach $2,500,000, and we are required to balance our budget, so there is no opportunity to balance this year’s losses with potential future gains,” Reade wrote. “Never in our 112-year history have we experienced what has rapidly transpired over the last few weeks.

‘The convergence of a global pandemic, cuts to the Campus Alberta Grant and the demand by the Alberta government that universities balance their budgets and reduce expenditures in-year has produced a worst-case scenario It has brought most of our diverse revenue streams to a complete halt, and the way we deliver high performance sport a the University of Alberta will be impacted.”

The proverbial beans were already being counted closely late last year, when the athletics department underwent an initial wave of cuts even before a global pandemic was on the radar.

“When the new government took power, the writing was on the wall, like the university’s going to get hit really, really hard here,” said a source, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “And then (Premier Jason) Kenny doubled down on what he needed and then COVID hit and all the rest of it. So whatever backups or failsafes they had so they didn’t have to rely on government funding all went out the window all at the same time.

“Things were definitely bad before, they are much, much worse now.”

December 2019 brought an in-year budget cut of $75,000, which led to cancelling events such as the Block A Celebration. It was followed by a further reduction of $400,000, which they looked to offset by an approved increase in athletics and recreation fees.

“Additionally, the COVID-19 crisis has added several layers to our already difficult situation, including the suspension of the spring/summer athletics and recreation fee normally paid by students, which necessitated a further $300,000 expense reduction in 2020-21,” Reade said. “When facilities were closed, the result was cancellation of a number of our spring camps, junior varsity programming and our Athlete Academy. The postponement of team and alumni association organized fundraisers and closures of casinos all affect fundraising efforts this year.

“The worldwide collapse of the stock markets, massive layoffs, businesses closing and financial challenges for much of the Canadian population will restrict any opportunity for sport organizations to generate revenue through normal activities.”

To the tune of two and a half million dollars, which the source estimates and another confirmed at being close to half the total annual budget for U of A athletics.

“Our athletics program was designed to withstand provincial government funding reductions by reducing our reliance no that funding,” Reade said in the letter, which comes on the heels of last week’s Green and Gold Awards, presented over Facebook Live with volleyballers Max Elgert and Kory White earning the U of A’s top male and female athletes of the year. “In the last 30 years, we have diversified our revenue sources, which reduces our risk when any one revenue source falls.

“As you can see, however, we could not plan for a situation where every revenue source is eliminated or threatened. However, we will adjust our programming for 2020-21 fiscal, and we are already planning for the time when the financial situation improves.”

Until that time, assistant coaches, travel budgets and athlete per diems while on the road – which are already laughably minimal – will be slashed as the university tries to hang onto each of its Golden Bears and Pandas programs.

“We have always and will continue to do our best at putting our 450 student-athletes first. We will look at how we can respond in a way which retains all of our current teams, however there will have to be reductions, and everything is being considered,” Reade pointing out reductions are inevitable to coaching staffs, whose expenses make up about half the budget. “Canada West is examining all schedules in all sports with a goal to reduce the travel expense in the schedules.”

What exactly that is going to look like in the fall is anyone’s guess right now.

“I can’t see how travel won’t be impacted at this point,” said the source. “I have no idea what Canada West is discussing or what U-Sports will still consider acceptable as a berth to national championships. Are there even national championships in the wake of this?”

There is no quick fix, either.

“The axe is going to hang over the head, especially, of the University of Alberta because we give degrees to David Suzuki and we don’t bow down to oil,” the source said. “It’s going to hang over the University of Alberta for two to three years yet, maybe even longer now in the wake of this global pandemic and the recession to beat all recessions.

“Who knows what the budgeting scenario could look like for post-secondary going forward?”

E-mail: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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