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USF athletics bracing for budget cut as pandemic lingers

Athletic director Michael Kelly is exploring ways to trim 15 percent from his department’s budget for 2020-21.

USF athletics as you knew it before the coronavirus’ rampage remains intact. To this point, the Bulls haven’t been forced to lay off staffers, eliminate sports or even impose furloughs.

Which isn’t to say they haven’t gone through this crisis unscathed.

Athletic director Michael Kelly said Thursday that his department must trim 15 percent from its budget for the 2020-21 academic year. He has spent part of the self-isolation period collaborating with coaches and senior staffers on where the trims will occur.

“It’s been a collaborative process,” Kelly said in a video conference with the Tampa Bay Times.

“I certainly wanted coaches to be a part of (the discussions). It’s not easy for anybody, but I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me to just cut without the knowledge about how to handle your department.”

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Kelly’s announcement arrived the same day East Carolina — an American Athletic Conference peer of USF — announced it will eliminate its men’s and women’s tennis and swimming and diving programs to help reduce a $4.9 million budget deficit. The move reduces ECU’s sponsored sports from 20 to 16, including nine for women.

While Kelly didn’t specify where USF’s cuts would occur, he acknowledged some coaches volunteered to have their salaries reduced, a measure that has yet to be implemented.

Whether more drastic measures are required hinges on how the pandemic affects fall revenues.

Like several other AAC schools, USF derives a considerable chunk of its athletic department funding from student fees.

A USA Today study of athletic department budgets at public universities indicated nearly $24 million (53 percent) of USF’s athletic department revenues for the 2017-18 fiscal year came from “allocated” funds. Student fees represented a large portion of that ($17.2 million).

The amount annually generated by those fees depends on enrollment.

“We’ve been able to hold on to our current staff, to our scholarship levels and to our sports,” Kelly said. “We haven’t had those discussions yet, but if it comes to that, obviously we’ll do that also in alignment with the university as it relates to anything regarding the staff.”

On a more positive note, Kelly said he’s hopeful Bulls football and basketball players will be able to return to campus in the coming weeks now that the NCAA has approved voluntary on-campus workouts for those sports starting June 1.

Any such workouts, however, must be in accordance with each individual school’s guidelines regarding the coronavirus, and in conjunction with guidance from local and state governments. A USF task force headed by Dr. Donna Petersen, dean of the USF College of Public Health, is mapping out an overall response as it pertains to students returning to classes and playing fields.

“It all just has to kind of blend together in terms of the right timing because we might be in a position, along with some other entities on campus, to come out a little bit earlier than others,” Kelly said. “But we’re not finalized on those dates yet.

“I look at that as just being somewhat of a technicality, but also a positive baby step forward in terms of everyone’s interest in pursuing on-time fall sports.”