Athletics Director discusses how COVID-19 and budget cuts have affected the return of sports

By Ryan Scott, Staff Reporter

SIU’s Director of Athletics, Liz Jarnigan, has occupied the head position for a little over a year, and has been leading the department through the COVID-19 pandemic since it began last March. 

Jarnigan and the SIU athletics department have had to make tough decisions based on the school’s financial situation, including many cuts to their operating budget. 

Now that the basketball and volleyball seasons have begun with many other teams including football preparing for a spring start, the budget cuts that occurred in the fall will now be more important than before. 

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The athletic budget was adjusted in the fall to cut costs because of the delay of sports and the limited capacities allowed this year. 

“We cut three million dollars from our operating budget this fiscal year,” Jarnigan said. 

With the department making cuts to the budget, Jarnigan discussed if any jobs have been lost as a result of those cuts.

“We’ve had quite a few positions left vacant, we’ve been on a hiring freeze so we’ve realized some savings through not replacing positions. We’ve cut the operating budgets across the board an average of 25 percent to include our sport teams operating budget as well as the student academic support and facilities operations,” Jarnigan said. 

Basketball games at SIU have only allowed for family members and no paid visitors. Jarnigan spoke about how much the department has lost from the limited capacities. In the fall, Jarnigan said the department was already losing money even if they did have full capacity at events later on. 

“We’ll recoup a portion of it but basically we’ve lost about 80% of our football ticket revenue and 100% of our basketball revenue. So, we’re talking about close to a million dollars in lost revenue overall,” Jarnigan said

Jarnigan had previously said that the NCAA payments were lower this year and now added that they’ve been cut by 35-40 percent this year. 

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Jarnigan spoke on her expectations for the season in regards to having stoppages due to COVID-19 and said they knew there would likely be some stoppages and positive tests after they saw the football season in the fall. 

“We knew that was going to happen as we took a look at what happened in the fall for teams that did compete in the fall, we knew it was not realistic to think that there wouldn’t be starts and stoppages. I certainly had hoped that it wouldn’t impact our team but that would, I guess, you know would have been a little bit naive,” Jarnigan said. 

The men’s and women’s basketball teams have both seen lengthy stoppages this season and Jarnigan discussed the impact those have had on the department’s budget. 

“What the stoppages have done as we reschedule, you know, charter flights, and buses and all of those change fees and additional costs are incurred on our expenditures as a result of changing,” Jarnigan said.

Jarnigan also spoke about how testing has gone throughout the process and what changes the NCAA has made in regards to testing rules. 

“Sometimes changes in the testing protocol and the guidance from the NCAA have occurred. One big thing that has come into play is that if someone has previously tested positive for the coronavirus, then they are now exempt from having to be tested again for 150 days. And they’re also exempt from contact tracing for 90 days,” Jarnigan said. 

Sports reporter Ryan Scott can be reached at [email protected] or on twitter @RyanscottDE. 

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