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Warde Manuel: Loss of football a $100M setback to Michigan athletics, 'almost half our budget'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said the finances of the athletic department will suffer a brutal blow now that the Big Ten has postponed fall sports, including football, the big bread winner.

Manuel, appearing Tuesday on the “Conqu’ring Heroes” podcast in a wide-ranging interview with host Jon Jansen, said expenses have been cut and difficult choices have been made for what he called the “long-term health of the department.”

Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren announced Aug. 11 the postponement of fall sports because of lingering COVID-19-related health and safety issues. The decision was made less than a week after the conference had released a 10-game Big Ten-only composite football schedule.

Warde Manuel

“The impact is upwards of almost half our budget, about $100 million,” Manuel said on the podcast. “We’re still working through some models that hopefully we’ll have at some point in September, finalized and sort of nailed down exactly what everything will be.

“It is a significant loss, so we have to take as many significant reductions as we can and cutbacks as we have already as we continue to do a budget, salary reductions and those kinds of things. We just keep moving through and trying to figure it out.”

How important is football to the athletic department annual budget? Michigan football generated $122,270,243 of the department’s $148,637,051 total revenue last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education.

Iowa last week announced the elimination of four sports, while Nebraska is reducing its budget 10 percent and will make job cuts across the athletic department. At Purdue, football coach Jeff Brohm, basketball coaches Matt Painter and Sharon Versyp, and athletic director Mike Bobinski have taken voluntary 20-percent pay cuts. Earlier this summer, Manuel and Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and basketball coach Juwan Howard each took 10-percent cuts to their salaries.

More: Big Ten says there was 11-3 vote, which conflicts with what some presidents say

“It has been a substantial impact on the department and tough, hard, sad decisions have been made as we have to make cuts to expenses to offset reduction in revenue,” Manuel said on the podcast. “Everybody is going through that In our society. One of my closest friends lost his job three weeks ago, and it was hard. He didn’t lose it because he wasn’t doing his job, he was losing it because the company was losing significant revenue during these times and had to make the decision on his job and other jobs.

“It’s a hard impact. It’s not easy to think of all the things we have to give up that we’re normally used to having, but that’s where we find ourselves during this time. Difficult choices have to be made in order for the long-term health of the department, the long-term health of the university. The president and the board also have to make decisions about that and what needs to go on there, like companies are doing across the world.

"It doesn’t make it any easier that we’re making these tough decisions and others are doing it, too, so it makes it easier. It doesn’t. It cuts into the way we normally do things. I appreciate all of the support that our season-ticket holders gave to us by donating back to the champions fund, just remarkable, super support. I am immensely thankful.”

Manuel told Jansen he was in his car when he heard Warren announce the Big Ten’s decision to postpone fall sports. He said less than 1 percent of student-athletes tested for COVID-19 returned positive results.

“We were aware it was a potential to be announced that way. I was hopeful obviously that it wouldn’t have been,” Manuel said. “It hits you in the gut, because you work so hard on behalf of our student-athletes, our coaches, our fans, and our donors, to try to make this happen. You put plans in place, you see what the student-athletes are doing all summer to do the right things and the social distance and to wear masks while working out and to do all the things we were asking them to do.

More: Big Ten coaches, ADs discussing 'a lot of ideas' about possible start of football season

“We had some that came down with the virus, but for the most part, it was less than 1 percent of our student-athletes who were tested."

He said it has been difficult not being able to answer some of the questions from student-athletes and their parents.

“The presidents decided to make the decision, and while disappointing, we continue to move on and try to figure out the best path to move forward for everybody,” Manuel said. “We have to move forward. We have to keep on being positive that we can get through it. If it is healthy and safe for our student-athletes to play, if they decide that they want to play given where we are with this pandemic and if we feel it’s safe, and if I don’t feel it’s safe, I will be the first person to stand up and say, ‘We’re not playing.’

“This is not about us playing the games for playing the games’ sake and not wanting to take a break during the pandemic. It’s not about financial. We already know the financial impact is going to be very significant on our department. I made that announcement in June. It is really about the effort and trying for our student-athletes who want to compete. But we need to make sure we can do it safely, we need to make sure we can answer the questions, and we have the best protocols in place for our student-athletes moving forward to play.”

Warde Manuel on Michigan budget cuts: "We just keep moving through and trying to figure it out.”

Here are other highlights from Manuel’s interview with Jansen:

►On how he’s doing: “It has no easy answer. The easy answer is given everything we are all dealing with in trying to navigate with our lives now, I’m doing well, my family’s doing well, our student-athletes and coaches and staff are doing well and hanging in there. School’s started so you get somewhat back to normal with the students being on campus even though the majority of our classes, about 60-70 percent of classes are being offered online. But the student-athletes are back on campus and students are back on campus makes things seem like they’re normal again. We’re still not in our offices and sports have been impacted at least to start this fall. We’re just trying to work through everything but all in all I’m doing pretty good.”

►On how the student-athletes are handling everything: “There’s a lot going on and our student-athletes are dealing with the issues with COVID and the issues related to that, and practicing and competing is just not normal, school’s not normal, you have social issues they’re dealing with and trying to wrap their heads around how to make this world a better place. I’m so proud of them. You look at how many of the student-athletes were out there Sunday protesting (at the Black Lives Matter protest in Ann Arbor) and they’re really trying to make a difference in the world." 

►On his reaction to the BLM protest organized by UM football player Hunter Reynolds and EMU player Tariq Speights: “One word, pride, comes to mind in terms of how they went about it. They organized it, how they were inclusive of Eastern Michigan. When Hunter texted me about what they were planning and invited me to come out, I was out of town so I wasn’t able to be there, but I told him I wanted him to speak from the heart, to really talk about how he felt about what was going on, develop solutions, do it peacefully. He doesn’t have all the answers, neither do I, but we need to continue to work at it. I told him I was glad they partnered with Eastern Michigan and bringing them into the conversation, along with our student-athletes. All these things are ways to make progress and ways to get more voices around the table, so you can come up with ideas and solutions and thoughts about how to move forward."

►On whether that’s been the silver lining of the time away from sports: “Absolutely. It’s the perfect sort of time to do that, because we have time. We’re not doing a lot of things that would normally take away from our ability to process, and so as it relates to these issues and trying to make a difference, people can’t just go to the movies and get away from it. They can’t go to the office and get away from it. We are sitting on Zoom calls, we have our computers on the whole time, our TVs are on constantly, we’re not going out to eat as much and doing all the stuff we would normally do that would take us away from having to think about, so it’s there. And I think it’s one of the greatest times in our history where everybody has to deal with it and has to make a decision about what they want to be in life or how they want this country and their communities to react and to be. Some will choose not to change, but I think many, seeing what they’re seeing, hearing the voices, thinking about the impact on our community will finally start to say enough is enough, and we need to change, and it shouldn’t be like this for anybody based on just the color of their skin."

►On what he has seen from the coaches: “There are not a lot of positives in 2020, but I can’t tell you how proud I am of the leadership of our head coaches and our staff. It’s amazing. Just tremendous people. Everyone of them has stepped up at every turn, at every request. They’ve led their staffs, they’ve led their teams, they’ve assisted me in the leadership team in generating policies and these protocols. They’ve worked well with our medical staff and our trainers. They’ve done a remarkable job."

►On whether he can share ideas about when football might be played: “The ADs in the Big Ten are a great group, Kevin Warren is our commissioner, and the staff in the Big Ten, we’re constantly having conversations. At the appropriate time when more direction can be given after the presidents have a conversation given the conditions, an announcement will be made. I’ll keep those discussions we’ve had within the group."