IU athletic director Scott Dolson doesn’t know how much money the program will lose without sports.
The postponed football season due to the COVID-19 pandemic still doesn’t haven’t a resumption date, but rumors continue to circulate about a Thanksgiving start, or in the spring or maybe no start at all. Meanwhile, a bubble similar to that of the NBA has been proposed for men’s basketball, but that too is a rumor.
With so much uncertainty on its two biggest revenue sports, IU has given its entire athletics staff a minimum two-week furlough. Its highest paid employees — Dolson, football coach Tom Allen and men’s basketball coach Archie Miller — have all taken pay cuts.
“We wanted to share the pain throughout the department,” Dolson said.
Dolson has searched for other revenue options, knowing there will be limited coming from football and men’s basketball. If there are ticket sales at all for a resumed football season, it will be far below the typical income. If men’s basketball plays in a bubble, there will be no ticket sales at all.
The athletic department is preparing to release a fundraising campaign soon to recuperate some of the lost revenue, Dolson said.
IU has had to consider the potential of cutting sports programs as a result of the lost funds. That’s Dolson’s last option, but without knowing exactly how large IU’s financial hole will be as the months go on, it’s an option he’s had to think about. Dolson said he thinks that’s the case with all major college athletic programs.
“You hope for the best, but you’ve got to plan for the worst,” Dolson said. “Ultimately what we’ll have to do is figure out how we can fill the hole to get through this year and importantly in the future that we are financially stable.”
Dolson said he's content with the decision IU president Michael McRobbie made in voting against playing fall sports this year. He’s been happy with the communication he and McRobbie have had. But he still wants to see sports on the field soon.
“Everybody wants to play,” Dolson said. “There's a lot of emotion involved in it. But absolutely without question, health and safety is number one in the Big Ten, and it's number one here. Sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is. It's a tough thing but that's the reality.”
Ultimately, Dolson wants to play when medical experts deem it safe. The Big Ten is working with its medical subcommittees to meet demands as it relates to coronavirus testing and other necessary safety precautions. That is what Big Ten presidents are looking for as it relates to voting for a season restart.
When that will be remains uncertain. Dolson said he doesn’t care if that restart comes by Thanksgiving or if it doesn’t come until 2021. He said he is hopeful and optimistic of having a season at some point.
“We want to play, but we want to do it at the right time from the medical expert’s standpoint,” Dolson said. “Regardless of how big the hole is financially.”
Dolson is preparing for what he said is a worst case scenario— not having a season at all.
In regards to men’s basketball, Dolson still wants to learn more about the rumored bubble set up. He isn’t sure exactly what such a scenario would look like in practice, and he said the athletes still need to go to class. Dolson said any of his comments on a basketball bubble for now are speculation.
Asked about the Atlantic Coast Conference coach's proposal of an all-inclusive college basketball tournament, Dolson said he knows this season will be starkly different, but when it comes to the NCAA tournament, he’s a traditionalist.
“Everything needs to be on the table,” Dolson said.