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Athletics Halts Capital Projects, Considers Further Budget Cuts

Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River.
Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Ema R. Schumer, Crimson Staff Writer

In the face of a financial crisis, Harvard Athletics has deferred all capital projects and is considering other cost-cutting moves, Director of Athletics Robert L. Scalise said in an interview last week.

The department has halted refurbishing some of its facilities following the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’s announcement that it would postpone all capital projects indefinitely. FAS — the division of the University that oversees the College and thus Harvard Athletics — has already incurred nearly $30 million in unforeseen expenses and lost revenue as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Those losses place FAS in a deficit for FY 2020.

Projects at the top of the department’s agenda had included improvements to the wrestling team’s facilities housed in the Malkin Athletic Center, the Weld and Newell boathouses used by Harvard’s men and women’s crew teams, and the sailing center, which sank into the Charles River more than two years ago.

“It’s unrealistic to think that we’re going to be able to operate the way we did in the past,” Scalise said.

“People will be creative, and we’ll try to minimize the negative impact but there will be some things that have to change, just to be realistic and to be responsible,” he added.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, Harvard Athletics operated a budget of nearly $30 million, according to the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis compiled by the United States Department of Education.

Harvard boasts the most varsity athletics programs — 42 — out of the nearly 350 colleges and universities that comprise the National Collegiate Athletics Association Division I. Nearly 1,200 Harvard College students play on a varsity team, according to a Harvard Athletics website.

Though the extent of the cuts remains unclear, Scalise said the department will draw on its experience from the previous recession, when it trimmed its budget by 15 percent.

During the previous financial crisis, Scalise explained, the department tried to limit its cuts to areas that would not affect student-athletes. Faced with a similar situation roughly ten years later, Scalise said he is not sure the department can afford to shield its varsity programs entirely.

“Having done that not too long ago, I don’t know whether we’ll be able to do that at this point in time,” he said. “We’re down people from where we were back in 2008 on the administrative side, so we may have to get more into the programmatic elements of it. Hopefully not, but we may have to.”

Anticipating drops in donations, Scalise said teams may have to limit their travel. While the department subsidizes travel costs for regional competition, donors finance teams’ travel nationally and internationally.

Though a handful of athletics directors and head coaches at top athletics universities in the country have already taken pay cuts — some of which have been voluntary — Scalise said his department has not yet reduced the salaries of its staff.

Unlike many other Division I programs, Scalise said Harvard does not pay its coaches based on how much revenue their sport brings in for the University. During the 2018-2019 academic year, the department paid all of its coaches a combined $8,702,392, according to the Department of Education’s website.

As Athletics navigates the unfolding public health crisis and its impact on the upcoming athletics seasons, a new leader will have to parse those thorny financial problems; Scalise will retire in June after serving as the head of Harvard Athletics for 19 years, though he will continue in an advisory role. FAS Dean Claudine Gay is slated to select Harvard’s next Director of Athletics in the coming month.

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

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BudgetsMalkin Athletic CenterDepartment of AthleticsCoronavirus