The West Virginia University athletic department made the decision to furlough dozens of employees and cut the salaries of coaches and staff — a decision which Athletic Director Shane Lyons did not take lightly.
In total, 65 employees will be furloughed from May 24 to July 26, all of whom were notified by Lyons of the decision on Friday. A portion of furloughed employees will not return to work and their positions will not be filled Exactly who and how many employees will see this fate is yet to be determined.
“Today is a tough day,” he said in a press conference on Friday afternoon. “It’s always tough to share bad news with good people.”
Lyons added that these months have been the most unpredictable that he’s ever experienced, and it is difficult to know what will occur in the next few months.
“This pandemic has given us a chance to take a great, in-depth review of our current and future budgets, and to say to ourselves, ‘What do we really need here?'” he continued.
Lyons says the department is looking at every possible way to cut costs in the future. He mentioned the possibility of making non-conference competition more regional, where a bus trip would cost less than a plane trip.
As the May 31 date set by the Big 12 approaches, Lyons remains “optimistic” that there will be a football season. So much so that the newly-announced salary cuts to Lyons, coaches and other staff were made on the basis that football would be played in the fall.
“I have to preface it by saying if we were to have an altered football season, that could change significantly,” he said. “Not only for our department, but across the country.”
The announced projected $5 million shortfall is derived from that notion as well, taking into account funds from donors and ticket sales. Lyons says if football is not played or is drastically altered, the shortfall could be much larger than the original forecast.
$3 million of that projected shortfall will be made up by the salary cuts, which is as high as 10 percent for Lyons as well as the four highest-paid coaches at West Virginia. These cuts will last a full year (from July 1 to June 30), and as salaries make up one-third of the department’s budget, it was the first place they went for cuts.
In addition to the year-long cuts, no new multi-year contracts will be signed or negotiated with coaches in that time frame.
“Right now, it looks like everybody on our staff will to be there,” he said. “It’s just the multi-year contracts across the board are something that we’re going to have to take a look at.”
Moving forward, Lyons indicated that further reductions in staff my occur beyond employees already on furlough.
Lyons made it clear that the most difficult part of this situation, from the planning standpoint, was that even the near future is difficult to predict. This is further muddied by the wide variety of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by states, cities and more across the country, some of which may stay closed through the fall.
As for now, Lyons and his department are working to cut costs every way they can.
“Tough decisions had to be made. I have a responsibility — we have a responsibility as a department — to this University to run a [fiscally] sound unit,” Lyons said. “As the days carried on since the middle of March, when the pandemic first became a major issue, it became obvious that action was needed. Salary reductions and furloughs are never easy, but with the projected $5 million shortfall, they were absolutely necessary.”