Fort Lewis College won’t have to cut any of its 14 NCAA Division II athletics programs in the wake of budget cuts forced by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s the good news.
The bad news comes in the form of a $127,000 reduction in money allocated to athletics, FLC athletic director Brandon Leimbach said.
“We did have to take a 7.5% cut across the board for all operating budgets,” Leimbach said. “By in large, we were able to keep all staff members, which is awesome. When COVID hit, my biggest fear was having to cut a sport. The fact we survived this COVID crisis and didn’t get rid of one student-athlete in any sport, that’s really good. Not cutting a sport was the most important goal.”
In total, FLC has been forced to cut $1.85 million from its general fund budget. After larger cuts, including 12 employee layoffs and 11 staff furloughs, the athletics department felt fortunate to avoid larger reductions.
FLC athletics did remove three assistant coaching positions on staffs with more than one assistant coach. Ryan Wirth, the goalkeeper coach on the men’s soccer team who was the Skyhawks’ goalie on the 2011 national championship team, had his position eliminated. FLC men’s basketball will not replace assistant coach Kane Martinez, who accepted a graduate assistant coaching position at Nevada. The men’s and women’s cross-country and track and field programs lost an assistant coach.
“We hate having to make those sacrifices, but everything we did was to keep the student-athlete experience the utmost priority. We didn’t cut anything that would impact students wherever we could,” Leimbach said. “If you look at the benches and see Mines or Metro State, they have a head coach and an assistant coach. Anytime you see a third assistant, sometimes it’s hard to justify.”
Leimbach said the college will still try to add as many volunteer coaches as it can. It also has an open assistant coach position for the football team it hopes to fill. Often, those assistant coach salaries are less than $10,000.
Beyond the cuts to coaching staffs, Leimbach said the rest will come from operating expenses. No new uniforms will be purchased for the 2020-21 school year, and travel will be reduced. If an opponent is close enough to Durango, teams may travel for the day of the game and return the same day to avoid hotel expenses.
Coaches and administrators will not attend conventions and professional development conferences during the next year.
“We are looking at getting rid of the low-hanging fruit without compromising the student-athlete experience,” Leimbach said. “We’ve always had to do more with less.”
Many travel expenses will already be eliminated because of the reduction in minimum and maximum game requirements set by the NCAA Division II Presidents Council in May. Non-conference play has essentially been eliminated for men’s and women’s basketball, and many other sports will play a conference-only schedule. While that creates plenty of other problems from a competition standpoint, it will alleviate strapped budgets for struggling campuses.
Conference tournament play is also a point of discussion with possible cuts to tournament field size or the potential of eliminating conference tournament play for a year.
In positive news, Leimbach said the NCAA and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference are trending in a positive direction to resume play of fall sports as scheduled this year.
Athletes may begin to train on campus beginning July 6, though group sizes will be limited. The goal is to begin regular fall football practice Aug. 10.
Leimbach also said the soccer teams will host camps in July and that volleyball may also hold a camp this summer. Those are key fundraising opportunities for those programs. Indoor camps will be limited to 10 athletes at a time, but outdoor camps may host larger groups. The basketball teams canceled their summer camps, which were scheduled for June.
“We will adhere to all the governor’s policies, wear masks where appropriate and see what we can get done with the intention of resuming sports this fall,” Leimbach said. “Per NCAA Division II, fall practices and playing seasons have not been adjusted and will be conducted as normal. The resocialization and return to play efforts are being left up to conferences and institutions.”