Sunday will be a long day for the rowing teams — rowers will wake up before dawn, load into buses, drive four hours to the Princeton Chase race in Princeton, N.J., then load the buses and head home. Previous visits to the Princeton Chase included an overnight stay at a hotel in Princeton, but economic conditions necessitate reductions in varsity team travel, among many other areas.
As part of the University-wide response to the economic downturn, the Athletics Department has decreased its budget by $915,000 for this fiscal year in accordance with the 5 percent across-the-board cuts made by every department in the University, according to Athletics Director Andy Noel. In addition, the department is facing a $1.3 million reduction in endowment payout over two years.
“Between being dependent on endowment and certainly dependent on university subsidy, the combination of the two was a pretty difficult reduction,” Noel said.
The department attempted to restrict cuts to areas that would have a minimal impact on students — both varsity athletes and students involved with intramurals, club sports, Cornell Outdoor Education and physical education. The department reduced expenses in team travel, administrative travel (such as coaches traveling to development conventions or seminars), printed media guides and newsletters, maintenance and personnel.
Fifteen positions were cut from the department, including the “vast majority” of administrative assistants, Noel said. Five Athletics Department employees took advantage of the University’s Strategic Retirement Initiative, and only one of those positions was filled.
“We had a couple positions that were open, and we were able to move some folks over into those positions,” Noel said. “They may not have been a perfect fit but we felt that with some training it would be an appropriate enough fit to basically keep an employee with us. There were some positions that were open that we decided not to fill. Other staff have to take up that portion of the workload that they had been handling.”
Varsity team travel was one of the hardest-hit areas, and coaches put together their teams’ 2009-10 schedules with frugality in mind. Teams will play more local games to save on travel and lodging expenses.
“It’s affected our scheduling,” said gymnastics head coach Paul Beckwith.
Beckwith, whose team won the USAG Collegiate National Championships last season, said that the squad is considering scheduling two meets in the same weekend, which is a departure from standard procedure. Women's basketball head coach Dayna Smith scheduled two tournaments that offered financial assistance to participants. Last season, the team played games in Indianapolis, Fort Myers, Fla., and Coral Gables, Fla. The two longest trips the women's basketball team will take in 2009-10 are to the tournaments in Chicago and Charlottesville, Va., although the teams from Indianapolis (IUPUI) and Coral Gables (University of Miami) will pay a return visit to Ithaca early in the season.
"Everyone has to make sacrifices, and every team is willing to do that," Smith said. "We've been fortunate to have a budget that's equipped us to do what we need to do."
Every student on a team's roster represents additional travel expenses, and the rowing teams, among Cornell's largest in terms of participants, made their regular roster cuts earlier than normal this year to trim down travel expenses, according to Todd Kennett, director of rowing.
"No exotic traveling," Kennett said. "Overseas trips will be hard to justify, and places out west."
There is at least one financial bright spot for the Athletics Department — Cornell saw a 14 percent increase in fundraising from last year, and beat its goal of $3 million by $400,000.
"We went up 14 percent in annual fundraising when many of our peers in the Ivy League actually went down," Noel said. "One of our peers went down 20 percent. Our alumni are really unique in that when they know the economy is tough and they know that we're dependent on their support, they really stepped up and helped us in a very significant way."
"Our alumni are ridiculously loyal," Kennett said.
The Athletics Department receives a significant portion of its budget, $4.7 million last year, from endowment payouts. Cornell's endowment fell 26 percent by June 30, and administrators planned a 15 percent reduction in payouts to all departments. Other Ivy League athletics departments, all with endowment issues of their own, face a similar situation. Noel said that Ivy League directors of athletics were discussing possible league-wide initiatives to reduce expenses.
"We want to make adjustments across the league it doesn't put any individual school at a disadvantage," Noel said. "All of our financial circumstances are very different but to the extent that the directors of athletics can make some decisions to reduce expense, we want to do that together."
In addition to the $915,000 already cut, Noel anticipates further reductions to be necessary in the future; he expects to have an estimate by the end of the calendar year but would not speculate about the amount of the cut, nor where the department would look to trim from next. Noel has also met with Bain and Company to discuss ideal manager-subordinate ratios, and other issues that Bain is addressing across the University.
"We recognize that this is a situation that is University-wide," Noel said. "We know that it is difficult for every unit to have to make these kind of reductions."