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ASU budget crunch sidelines top coaches

Citizen Staff Writer



Perhaps you saw the news the other day. Arizona State football coach Dennis Erickson will be taking some involuntary time off.

Same for Sun Devils basketball coach Herb Sendek.

And athletic director Lisa Love.

Budget crunches from coast to coast mean that employees at several university athletic departments will be taking mandatory furloughs.

At ASU, Erickson will have to take 12 unpaid days – a loss of $20,800 – before June 30, according to USA TODAY. Sendek takes a hit of $13,600 from his base salary.

As for the coaches at the University of Arizona and other athletic department employees?



Love told USA TODAY that her department received “very nominal” assistance from the university. Still, athletic department employees were subject to the furloughs – in Love’s case for 15 days – in order to help the university save around $24 million. ASU is dealing with $88 million in budget cuts for this fiscal year.

Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood said the furlough “has not been an option on our table.”

“I’m not trying to reflect or comment on their situation,” he added, referring to ASU, “but every university is funded in different ways. We don’t have state salaries. There is not an employee on our staff – which is 163, 164 – who is funded by state money. . .

“Arizona State is funded in some different kind of ways.”

As for UA’s 2009-10 fiscal year, who knows?

Arizona’s athletic department is self-sufficient, reporting revenues of nearly $47 million for the past fiscal year, with expenses of nearly $44 million. But Livengood and all his other colleagues are dealing with the trickiest economic times of their careers.

Maryland, Clemson and Utah State also in the midst of mandatory furloughs that affect athletic department employees. Athletic department giant Ohio State reports it is facing a $1.2 million shortfall in the fiscal year.

Stanford, which figures it will lose $5 million in revenue in the next three years, is considering cutting staff, and has put on hold an extension for football coach Jim Harbaugh.

The University of Miami recently announced it will bus to football games at South Florida (Tampa) and Central Florida (Orlando), rather than fly, saving about $140,000. The Hurricanes are not alone in making such changes in travel.

Whatever it takes.

Arizona doesn’t often have the geographic luxury of bussing to games. Another challenge at UA when dealing with rising costs – such as coaches’ salaries and airline luggage charges – is that there is little opportunity for new income, at least on the attendance side.

McKale Center has been packed for decades for men’s basketball, while football attendance has surged under coach Mike Stoops. The Wildcats drew 367,080 fans last season, the third-best in school history.

Next season’s home schedule – with six games, not seven like last season – doesn’t have USC or ASU, making tickets a tougher sell, even with the Cats coming off a 7-5 season.

Amid all this financial instability, Livengood has to hire a men’s basketball coach.

The concepts of watching the bottom line and fulfilling the stated goal of bringing in a top-flight head coach who “can win the press conference” aren’t unavoidably at odds with each other, but they’re also not necessarily compatible.

“Market value is market value,” Livengood said of the cost of hiring a men’s basketball coach.

“I love people who will give me a suggestion – and I do mean love because they’re great fans – who have never made a hire in their life. It’s pretty easy on the outside to say, ‘This is so doggone important that money should never be a factor.’ . . .

“I understand. I also understand we have a university going through an incredible transformation right now, and a state legislature that is big-time worried that the cuts in (fiscal) 2010 will be twice what they are in ’09.

“It wouldn’t be very prudent and certainly pretty insensitive to say, ‘You know what, this is Arizona athletics, this is Arizona basketball, I can’t be worried about that.’”

That might be the political answer.

“Having said all that,” Livengood continued, “(university president Robert Shelton) has been dynamite with this – we’re going to do what we need to do, certainly within reason.”

Livengood said he didn’t want to end up with a nagging worry after making the hire – ‘Man, if we had spent a little bit more.’ ”

The economic times are such that Livengood talks about the possibilities of schools agreeing to reduce schedules, primarily in the so-called minor sports. That’s probably way down the road.

More immediately, Livengood hopes he doesn’t have to use furloughs as a way to meet budget in the next fiscal year.

It would be a shame to hire a basketball coach and then tell him to take a couple of weeks off.

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: agimino@tucsoncitizen.com

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