UK Athletics cutting expenses after projected $35 million decline in revenues due to pandemic

By Jay Blanton
University of Kentucky

University of Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart provided a budget update on Monday that continues to place student-athletes first in the face of a projected decline in net revenues of nearly $35 million in 2020-21 because of COVID-19.

“The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have presented a historic budget challenge,” Barnhart told members of the University Athletics Committee of the UK Board of Trustees on Monday afternoon. “But challenges are what we teach and coach our student-athletes to successfully work through — as individuals and as teams. That’s what we are doing with this challenge that confronts our department in the face of a global pandemic.”

Specifically, Barnhart told board members the department budget for 2020-21 includes a forecasted reduction in net revenues of $35 million, primarily from the loss of ticket sales in football and basketball and a reduction in ticket-related contributions to the K Fund. A presentation regarding the budget outlook presented to board members can be found here.

Health measures to confront the coronavirus resulted in state mandates that reduced seating capacity to 20 percent and 15 percent at Kroger Field and Rupp Arena for football and basketball, respectively.

Barnhart said the loss of revenues will be offset by increases in the Southeastern Conference revenue sharing, ongoing efforts to increase philanthropic support, a transfer of surplus funds from previous years, and cutting expenses.

Like the rest of the campus, athletics department compensation was cut 5 percent at the start of the fiscal year through a temporary reduction in retirement benefits. Barnhart said layoffs and additional salary reductions are not being considered at this time nor is UK Athletics asking for any assistance from UK’s general fund operations.

“Our staff and team have worked around the clock for months to give our student-athletes in all our sports an opportunity to compete and train this fall in as safe and healthy an environment as possible,” Barnhart said.

UK Athletics is one of a handful of departments across the country that receives zero dollars from student fees and institutional general funds. UK Athletics, in fact, pays for the scholarships it provides, its facilities, utilities, and maintenance as well as other expenses and has contributed millions of dollars to the university’s academic mission, including paying the annual debt service for $65 million of the more than $100 million Jacobs Science Building in the heart of UK’s campus. When that partnership was announced in 2016, it was considered an unprecedented investment from athletics into the academic mission of a major university.
UK Athletics already has cut nearly $10 million in expenses in areas such as recruiting and travel. These reductions offset necessary investments in COVID-19 testing and support for student-athletes.

“UK Athletics, for so many people, represents the front porch for the University of Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “Mitch and his team understand their vital role in that regard as well as how important it is for our athletics department to lead by example in the academic success and welfare of its student-athletes as well as their ongoing contribution to the success of the university.

“This budget plan — constructed in the midst of some of the most challenging times we have ever faced as an institution — underscores that commitment and that partnership.”

Capilouto noted that Barnhart, throughout his long tenure at UK, has been “balancing the department’s budget and contributing to the success of the entire university. While this year will be the toughest budget year in generations for athletics, I am confident that Mitch and his team are putting together — and executing on — a plan that will give athletics, and our student-athletes, the best chance for success.

“As always, they are putting our students and our university first.”