ECU Football

East Carolina’s athletics director Jon Gilbert, left, and football coach Mike Houston walk off the field together after a game at N.C. State on Aug. 31, 2019.

East Carolina athletics could face a budget deficit of more than $11 million next fiscal year alone if football is not played this fall.

ECU athletics director Jon Gilbert said Thursday morning during university Board of Trustees meetings that he is expecting athletics to be close to the original projection of a $7.5 million loss for the fiscal year that ended June 30, but the projection for the 2020-21 fiscal year has changed from a $5.5 million loss to at least an $11 million deficit.

Gilbert reinforced that athletics budget projections at ECU and nationwide are very fluid amid the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically with uncertainty about football and fan attendance. He is expecting stadium capacity restrictions if games are played.

“I do think in the coming weeks we’ll have a better idea of what the fall will look like and what ramifications will come from that, but I will tell you that based on our revenue and based on the reductions we’ve made thus far, it is still not enough,” Gilbert said during the Athletics & Advancement Committee meeting held remotely. “We are still going to need institutional support and still going to have to tighten our belt. Depending on what the fall looks like, we could have additional furloughs for our entire athletic department staff. I am encouraged where we are and I feel good about our plan, but I also know the coming weeks will give us a snapshot of what we really have to plan for.”

ECU planned originally for $43,440,503.00 in athletics expenses and $36,039,243.00 in athletics revenue for the 2019-20 fiscal year. Actual numbers through May were significantly lower in both categories, and the Pirates in May announced a new anticipated deficit of $10 million-12 million.

Gilbert provided updated numbers Thursday, saying that savings in expenses, an uptick in recent Pirate Club donations and NCAA revenue distribution funds help while waiting on clarity about the fall sports season and its economical impact.

“I think we’re going to get close to getting back to the $7.5 million deficit, however, next year’s projection is still at $11 million and that $11 million operating deficit for next year is contingent on multiple factors for this fall,” Gilbert said. “Depending on what the fall looks like and whatever scenario we get to, that loss of $11 million could increase and it could be significant.”

COVID-19’s impact in March seemingly stopped all college and professional sports. ECU has returned some of its student-athletes to campus in recent weeks and has been conducting football offseason workouts and administering COVID-19 tests.

The Pirates are scheduled to begin their season Aug. 29 against Marshall at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

University meetings Thursday came one day after North Carolina stopped its football voluntary workouts from 37 positives among a total of 429 people tested within the UNC athletics department. Gilbert said Thursday the Pirates were at 16 confirmed positive tests among their total of 270 student-athletes, coaches and staff tested.

Cutting men’s and women’s swimming and diving and men’s and women’s tennis on May 21 was part of a long-term cost-cutting plan, reducing the Pirates’ teams from 20 to the Division I football-playing minimum requirement of 16. Gilbert said the swimming reduction saves $1.66 million in annual budget operations, and tennis is a little more than $1 million.

ECU swimming and diving alumni and supporters have responded with more than $700,000 in pledges, but the Pirates are not planning on reversing their decision.

“There’s no doubt that Jon and (interim Chancellor) Ron (Mitchelson) agonized over the decision to reduce our programs,” Athletics & Advancement Committee chair Fielding Miller said. “It was a super difficult decision, but one that had to be made. In particular, the swimming and diving team is an incredibly passionate group that worked hard to campaign to keep that program going, it’s just not feasible to do.”

“Based on our finances, I knew we needed to do something,” Gilbert said.

Other recent financial decisions by the Pirates included $1.1 million in total savings from team and department budget cuts and five-day furloughs for all athletics full-time employees, a savings of $300,000. Gilbert took a $100,000 salary reduction and declined all performance bonuses.

“There are a lot of assumptions with revenue projections,” he said. “It is very difficult to be precise, given the pandemic and all the unknowns that are still yet to rear their head. We anticipate revenue reductions in our student fee category, our Pirate Club support, our football revenue, both the NCAA and American Athletic Conference distribution, our sports marketing dollars will be reduced, concessions will be reduced.”

Gilbert also said the 16 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 go through the established protocol for recovery and daily check-ins.

“Most are asymptomatic, and those individuals go into a quarantine and go through all testing procedures,” he said.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.