The Lehigh athletics department faces budget uncertainty with the cancellation of fall sports. Football tickets are the biggest revenue source for the department in the fall. (Sam Henry/B&W Staff)

Athletic department budget office experiences uncertainty following fall sports cancellation

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The Patriot League’s decision to cancel fall sports threatens to extend the negative impact the pandemic has had on revenue for Lehigh’s athletic department since the university’s coronavirus-related closure in March.  

Stacy Shiffert, the associate athletic director for business and budget, said in the spring her department estimated revenue losses of a little over $1 million. Following the league’s latest announcement, Shiffert said as her department receives updated information, they will adjust their budgets and projections accordingly. 

“We are holding on fall budgets for now because there is a chance [fall sports]may have a season this spring.  We are not sure what fall sports in the spring season could look like for any of the sports,” Shiffert said. “So rather than call it a loss at this time, we are taking a pause and waiting to see what news will come from the NCAA, the Patriot League, the university and state/local health bureaus over the upcoming weeks and months.”

Shiffert said the primary sources of revenue during the fall are football ticket sales — especially those for the Lehigh-Lafayette game — as well as NCAA revenue distributions. 

A survey was sent out to those who pre-purchased football tickets for the fall, giving them a few options. Only season tickets and mini-plans were available for sale at the time of the Patriot League’s decision. 

Brett Casey, the assistant director for sales and marketing, said ticket holders have the option to roll over their credit or balance to a potential spring 2021 season or the fall 2021 season, donate their purchase to the athletics partnership to support the needs of student-athletes or receive a full refund.

Those who choose to receive a full refund will have their seat locations protected. 

“We wanted to ensure that their decision would not affect their season ticket status, especially during these difficult times,” Casey said. 

He said the majority of fans who have responded thus far have committed to a potential spring or fall season. 

Shiffert said the largest monetary loss since the onset of the pandemic came from the cancellation of the March Madness basketball tournament, which normally results in the university receiving a share of NCAA revenue generated by the event. The athletic department also normally receives ancillary funding from the NCAA to support the student-athlete experience, but it did not this spring. 

Further losses have stemmed from summer camps and clinics not taking place and the university being unable to rent out athletic facilities to outside camps.  

“The impact was felt through our department, not just to our teams,” Shiffert said. “Our main focus is really to keep the student athlete experience going as well as we can and to also make sure we’re still providing a good experience on our campus through our events and through our offerings in Taylor Gym and the Goodman Campus.” 

The university plans to honor all athletic scholarships offered for the 2020-2021 school year. 

The NCAA instituted a dead period for recruiting in March, meaning that coaches are not permitted to have face-to-face contact with players and can’t watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools. 

Despite this, Shiffert said coaches are still recruiting in other ways and she does not see any issues with filling teams going forward. Per NCAA rules, coaches are allowed to get in contact with prospective recruits and committed athletes via phone. 

“I don’t foresee a large impact in the immediate future, but again we will be directed from the university as things evolve this year,” Shiffert said. “I do believe [the Patriot League Council of Presidents]made the right decision to cancel fall sports. They took the health and safety of the student-athletes into consideration.”

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