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Despite Financial Strain, Harvard Not Considering Varsity Athletic Team Cuts

New Harvard Athletic Director Eric McDermott discussed the department's finances in a interview  Tuesday.
New Harvard Athletic Director Eric McDermott discussed the department's finances in a interview Tuesday. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Ema R. Schumer, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: October 29, 2020, 7:54 p.m.

Harvard Athletics has spared its personnel and 42 NCAA Division I programs from cuts as it drastically reduces operations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Director of Athletics Erin McDermott said in a Tuesday interview.

McDermott, who began her tenure as Harvard’s first female Athletics Director this summer, said she spent her first four months at the helm finding ways to make the department “austere in our operation.”

Harvard’s fields, courts, and pools now sit largely empty as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The Ivy League canceled the fall sports season and Harvard limited on-campus living to freshmen and a small share of upperclassmen this semester to curtail virus's spread.

McDermott said the global health crisis has naturally circumscribed the department’s operations.

“Operations are so drastically different without having competition, you know, we’re not traveling teams, we’re not hosting competition,” she said. “With the student athletes that we have on campus, and with our recreational operations that we have ongoing for students and staff on campus, we’re operating really on an as need — and what’s really essential — kind of way.”

“There wasn’t really definitive, necessarily ‘cuts’ that were made,” McDermott added. “We’re just not doing all the same things that we would typically do.”

Still, the department has not broken even.

McDermott said two major sources of revenue the Athletics Department lost include the Harvard-Yale football game — which Harvard was scheduled to host next month — as well as the Boston Calling Music Festival, which takes place at the athletics complex every spring. As a result, McDermott said, a large part of her day-to-day job over the past four months has consisted of schmoozing potential donors virtually and soliciting their contributions.

“As far as major revenue streams, at this point, it's really philanthropy — we're really working on those efforts," she said. "That's been a main focus for me in these first few months...connecting with our alumni, and certainly our kind of loyal philanthropist donors for the department."

Though McDermott did not state the extent of the department’s financial losses, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences — which oversees Harvard Athletics — netted more than $30 million in “unforeseen expenses and lost revenue” associated with the coronavirus as of April.

Despite financial pressures, Harvard Athletics has not cut any of its teams or fired its employees, according to McDermott.

While universities across the country — including peer schools such as Dartmouth and Stanford — have recently axed a handful of athletics programs to improve their balance sheets, McDermott said Harvard has not considered eliminating any of its 42 varsity teams — the most of any university in the country.

“There haven’t been conversations about cutting teams,” she said.

McDermott also said the department has been “fortunate” not to have to reduce its payroll, though it has adhered to the University-wide hiring freeze.

—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at ema.schumer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.

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