Two things now significantly harder ever since the start of COVID-19 are answering questions and making decisions, especially for people like Southern Miss Athletic Director Jeremy McClain, who has to do both, under the added pressure of mitigating seven figure losses in the budget. He says planning for that uncertain future is like trying to pin Jell-O on the wall.
Taking flight, normally a thing Golden Eagles do pretty well, but in this case, USM’s fight or flight response has the program grounded due to heavy turbulence. “We lost about a million dollars in NCAA distribution when the basketball tournament wasn’t played, so that’s where most of that came from.”
So far, about 1.5 million dollars in lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic during the last quarter of the fiscal year alone and while other schools have had to pull the plug on entire programs just to make up the difference, McClain says those ends don’t justify the means. “We have 17 sports, and the Division I requirement is that you have 16 sports. And so we’re not in the situation where our portfolio in sports is large. There are some programs around the country that maybe have 18, 20 or 20-plus programs that are making very difficult decisions. But it’s just not really in the cards for us.”
Baseball is a revenue sport USM simply can’t afford to lose, ranking in the top 20 nationally in attendance. Not to mention a new school record in season ticket holders, most of which paid it forward in the wake of a lost season. “About 75 percent of our season ticket holders, suite holders, Roost holders chose to give that back as a donation, so that really helped us kind of get through what was a tough time.”
Still more tough sledding ahead for Southern Miss, but a shot in the arm this week with football players starting to return to campus for voluntary workouts. If all goes according to plan, a home opener versus South Alabama on September 5th. “We are planning to be fully go, right? We are planning to start on time, we’re planning to have people in the stands, but there are contingency plans – some that we’re still working through – but we are moving in a direction to address all of the scenarios that may be coming our way.”
McClain says football drives the revenue engine in any athletic department, posing a lot of questions that still need to be answered and decisions that still need to be made in due time. “We know it’s going to be a difficult year. The question right now is just how difficult, from a financial standpoint? Is it something we’re going to have to make drastic measures or are we kind of going to be able to cut around the corners and be able to push through? And so we’ve got several scenarios that we’re working on, and I would relate it to trying to pin Jell-O to the wall from a standpoint of exactly what it’s going to look like.”
McClain says USM is working towards opening a second weight room on campus as other athletes from fall and winter sports make their return to Hattiesburg in early July.