Notebook: Pollard talks athletic department’s future during COVID-19

Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard speaks during the pep rally held Dec. 27, 2018.

Matt Belinson

Less than 24 hours after announcing that Iowa State athletics would be implementing several new financial initiatives to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard spoke with the media Thursday to discuss what the future holds for Iowa State athletics.

Pollard spoke at length about how during this global pandemic, many deadlines and hard numbers aren’t set in stone because of situations changing daily around the country and across Iowa.

In the hour he spoke with the media over a video conference call, Pollard addressed questions ranging from a scenario with a shortened or canceled college football season, the athletic department’s financial situation and how coaches and staff handled the news of pay cuts.

An ‘ice age’ without football

Pollard didn’t mince his words when it came to the impact college football has on the athletic department at Iowa State and across college sports, which is why the possibility of losing the 2020-21 football season is daunting.

With spring football being virtually wiped out across the the country and with recruiting being put on an extended dead-period until the end of May, college football is in a virtual standstill.

The idea of going a year without football is a scary thought for Pollard, a scenario he said he wants to hold off as long as possible.

“We are in three situations: Is it a winter blizzard where we are all hunkering down for the weekend, the farmer’s almanac saying we are in for a tough winter, or an ice age?”, Pollard said. “If we don’t play football this fall, it’s ice age time.”

Pollard said he and the rest of the Big 12 athletic directors hadn’t spoken in detail about a serious switch to a shortened college football season.

Pollard said he would guess the real discussions about college football and the pros and cons of playing this upcoming season will start in the next few weeks. While the discussions have yet to take place, Pollard put his trust in Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to bring together the athletic directors when the decision and discussion need to take place.

Stadium’s Brett McMurphy reported on Thursday that there have been discussion between some power five athletic directors about pushing back college football toward the winter and divide the season between the fall and spring semesters or possibly move forward without the season entirely. 

Pollard said he had not heard of anyone seriously considering moving forward without football so quickly, especially with the massive revenue it generates for millions in college athletics.

“The thought of losing football and losing an entire season, that’s a complete game-changer,” Pollard said. “College athletics wouldn’t go away as we know, but it would get closer to that answer.”

Athletic department finances

The biggest item on the agenda for Pollard was the breakdown of the announcement that Iowa State athletic department coaches and staff would all be taking pay cuts and temporary freezes on their bonuses.

Pollard was definitive and stated that all coaches and staff who took pay cuts and lost their bonuses completely forfeited them, meaning once this crisis ends, that money will not be paid back. Pollard said that athletic department staff took a 10 percent pay cut across the board, with Pollard acknowledging that a 10 percent cut looks a lot different for Matt Campbell compared to an assistant coach in softball. Regardless of the amount, Pollard said the loss hurts everyone.

Pollard continually thanked his staff and assistant athletic directors for working together in a fast and collaborative effort to best react to how the athletic department would stay stable during this troubling time for the sports world.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t start and recognize that we have a truly amazing culture to be able to strategize this which allows us to play chess while some others are playing checkers,” Pollard said.

In the athletic department, Pollard outlined that 25 percent of the work force (around 50 employees) makes up 75 percent of the payroll. Pollard said the athletic department couldn’t just decide to not fill open positions to solve the problem. Pollard said that by not taking pay cuts and stopping bonuses, you’d have to drop four or five sports, drop all the units that support the head coaches, gutting the department piece by piece.

Pollard said the athletic department is operating with a $5 million loss due to the cancellation of the Big 12 basketball tournaments and the NCAA Tournament.

“We are naive if we don’t think it’s gonna be hard for people to buy tickets, donate, students coming back to school this fall,” Pollard said. “Yes we can delay facility projects, tap into reserves, but at the end of the day getting out in front of the known costs, the five million, so we wouldn’t die of a thousand cuts along the way.”

Pollard said he doesn’t anticipate graduate assistants’ salaries will be affected, also stating that minimum wage level workers will have to be dealt with differently.

Spring sport eligibility

The NCAA’s division one council announced Monday that spring sport athletes would receive another year of eligibility due to COVID-19 effectively ending their whole season. With the ruling being still fresh in people’s minds, Pollard laid out details on the ruling and what that means for Iowa State. 

Pollard said the NCAA’s new rule allows for seniors to 6 years of school four years of competition to get the same scholarship they had for the previous season and it not be counted toward the scholarship list for that sport.

In a hypothetical situation, if six seniors returned for Iowa State track and field, those six wouldn’t count toward the 12 scholarship spots that Iowa State track and field has listed.

Pollard knows each senior is in a different decision on whether or not to come back for another year, outside of scholarships. Pollard said that some seniors would have graduated so he doesn’t know whether they want to come back and start a master’s program, accept jobs or anything else.

Pollard said he will have to have 27 individuals discussions with the athletes who are eligible to return.