They aren’t saying furloughs are coming.
But the University of New Mexico Athletic Department in the past several months has implemented very specific, and very new, furlough-related language into the employment contracts for coaches – or any other employee who works on a contract basis.
It’s language not included in past contracts in the department, which has about one third (63) of UNM’s 181 contract employees. And while most employees at the university are already subject to potential furloughs if deemed necessary, the new language seems to open the door to more easily implement such measures on contract employees – like the high-profile head coaches and assistant coaches of various Lobo teams – “in the event financial exigency exists,” according to the new contracts.
“This is not to be read as a furlough may be coming,” UNM spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair told the Journal. “It is a preemptive action being taken to allow the flexibility to do so, only if necessary, and to openly make contract employees in the department fully aware of how employment circumstances could change, should a financial situation warrant it.”
The Journal reported Sept. 9 UNM Athletics posted a $3.6 million deficit for last (2019-20) fiscal year, though that was mitigated by $2 million in relief from the CARES Act, bringing the official shortfall on the books to $1.6 million. With as much as a $10 million shortfall possible this fiscal year depending on continued COVID-19 restrictions and fans not allowed in games, the department is in a cost-cutting mode.
“Since the start of all of this (pandemic in March), we have been looking at everything we can possibly do to cut costs or expenses and put ourselves in the best position possible to try and brace for whatever comes,” UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez said. “That includes having to look at all options.”
Nuñez noted in a text message on Friday how “frustrating” the past six months has been related to finances. Lobo Athletics, he said, was “moving towards making the budget again prior to COVID after all the budget right-sizing that we made last year, plus the unbelievable commitment made by the staff and coaches to manage their budgets.”
The Journal began requesting new contracts of newly hired coaches, but those were delayed by UNM for various reasons.
Then the Journal reviewed the contracts of former Lobo men’s basketball assistant coach Jerome Robinson to that of newly hired assistant Scott Padgett – who verbally accepted the job in June, signed his contract Aug. 4 and whose contract was given to the Journal on Sept. 15.
Both contracts are largely the same, but under section 2: Salary and Contract Period, Padgett’s, and other employees now, have contracts with the following new language:
“The base salary amount set forth herein shall be reviewed by the DIA (Director of Intercollegiate Athletics) from time to time, and any adjustment to such base salary shall be in the sole discretion of the DIA; provided, however, that in no event shall such base salary be reduced by more than fifty percent (50%). In the event financial exigency exists, the DIA reserves the right to furlough Coach for a duration not to exceed fifty percent (50%) of the Contract Term.”
Moving forward, UNM says the new language would be slightly different than the August contract of Padgett, to include more plain-language reference to “financial crisis”:
“In the event the University suffers significant financial crisis, whether such occurs before or after the execution of this Agreement, the base salary amount set forth herein shall be reviewed by the DIA, and, in his sole discretion, may be modified in order to comply with University actions in responding to the financial crisis; provided, however, that in no event shall such base salary be modified by more than fifty percent (50%). Similarly, the University reserves the right to furlough Coach for a duration not to exceed fifty percent (50%) of the Contract Term.”
The change in contract language doesn’t seem to be a university-wide matter.
“This applies to athletics contracts only,” Blair told the Journal. “Specifically, to new contracts and renewals as a transparent and preemptive way of addressing possible financial challenges that may arise.”
Among some recent furlough decisions for Athletic Departments over the past month or so, all related to projected revenue drops related to COVID-19:
• UTEP athletic director Jim Senter announced on Sept. 23 that all positions would face a furlough of some length between now and Aug. 31, 2021, as well as salary cuts (for current contract year, only) for head men’s basketball coach Rodney Terry and football coach Dana Dimel, as well as announcing an unspecified number of open positions would either remain unfilled or be eliminated.
Senter would not specify the number of jobs eliminated or frozen, the length of potential furloughs or what might be saved by the move.
• In early September, the University of Utah announced it would require two-weeks of furlough for every employee in its athletic department, including coaches and administrators, even Athletic Director Mark Harlan.
At that time, Harlan had suggested revenue shortfalls could reach the $40-50 million range for the year, but that was also before the Pac-12 decided to return to the football field this fall and cash in again, on some level, on its television broadcast contract.
• Forbes.com posted a story Sept. 2 about some of the nation’s largest athletic departments making decisions on layoffs, salary cuts and furloughs.
Included in that group is what financial documents suggest is the athletic department that rakes in the most revenue each year, the University of Texas, where New Mexico native Chris Del Conte, athletic director, said last month personnel-related cost cutting measures there would save about $13.1 million, though that’s a department planning to layoff 35 employees, eliminate 35 vacant positions, issue temporary paycuts to 273 employees, furlough 11 staff members and 26 coaches under contract agreed to voluntarily accept one-time salary reductions for the year.