As the University of Iowa Athletics Department was facing a massive financial shortfall due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020, a number of the department’s employees accepted, voluntarily or otherwise, reduced salaries and bonuses.
Among these employees were head coach of men’s basketball Fran McCaffrey (who volunteered for a $255,000 salary cut), women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder (-$105,872) and Tom Brands, head wrestling coach (-$82,500). The head coaches of the volleyball, rowing, field hockey, women’s gymnastics, women’s tennis, softball, soccer, baseball, golf, and track and field programs also accepted reduced pay, according to a report from the Gazette.
But the state’s highest-paid public employee, UI head football coach Kirk Ferentz, not only didn’t volunteer for a pay cut, but accepted his contracted salary increase of $100,000, bringing his base salary to $2.7 million. He also did not forgo bonuses accrued over the last year.
Ferentz appears to have set an example within his staff: no football coaches took the voluntary pay cuts or declined raises in 2020, according to public records reviewed by the Gazette.
- Head strength coach Raimond Braithwaite, who took on new responsibilities after strength coach Chris Doyle’s departure, watched his $205,000 salary more than double to $450,000.
- Assistant coach and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz saw his $775,000 salary jump $85,000 to $860,000.
- Assistant strength coach Cody Myers’ $56,295 salary nearly tripled to $150,000.
- Defensive coordinator Phillip Parker took his $90,000 raise, bringing his pay to $890,000;
- And [assistant coach Ken] O’Keefe saw his $625,000 salary grow to $685,000.
Salaries for Hawkeye football coaches in fiscal year 2021 (July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021) total $8.1 million.
The 2020 football season was shortened due to Big 10 COVID-19 regulations. Iowa finished the season with a 6-2 record, coming in second in the Big 10 West. The TransPerfect Music City Bowl scheduled for Dec. 30, 2020 was canceled after Iowa’s opponent, the Missouri Tigers, reported a spike in COVID cases among their student athletes, coaches and staff.
Football coaches may receive bonuses when their team qualifies for a bowl game. Ten of Iowa’s football coaches turned down their bowl bonuses, saving UI Athletics $431,333, but Kirk Ferentz was not one of them. He is set to receive his bonus of $100,000 on June 30.
UI Athletics also paid former football strength coach Chris Doyle a $1.1 million severance after his termination last summer following allegations of racism and bullying by former Hawkeye football players. While the allegations against Doyle were arguably the most serious, others accused of contributing to a culture of discrimination within Iowa Football, including Kirk and Brian Ferentz, saw no serious consequences.
The lack of meaningful football budget cutbacks amid the pandemic is especially notable considering the controversial decision by UI Athletics to cut four sports programs due to the pandemic: men’s swimming and diving, women’s swimming and diving (which was later saved), men’s tennis and men’s gymnastics.
The team cuts were announced on Aug. 21, 2020, 10 days after the Big 10 announced they were canceling the fall football season. “UI Athletics now projects lost revenue of approximately $100M and an overall deficit between $60-75M this fiscal year,” Barta and then-UI President Bruce Harreld said in a statement explaining the cuts.
A month later, the Big 10 decided to go forward with a fall football season after all, but UI Athletics did not reverse its decision to nix the programs. Only women’s swimming and diving was spared: Amid legal challenges accusing the UI of violating Title IX by cutting the team, Barta announced in February it would be reinstated — too little too late for several athletes, who had already cemented plans to transfer schools.
According to the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, cutting the three men’s programs will save UI Athletics around $1.5 million annually.
A group of UI parents, athletes and alumni formed Save Hawkeye Sports in the hope of preserving the programs, raising more than $3 million, plus another $3 million in future donations. UI Athletics turned down the money, leading some Save Hawkeye Sports members to believe the pandemic was just an excuse for UI Athletics to dispose of lower-revenue sports.
“These programs are so small in the scheme of things, that if they wanted to keep those programs there, they could have forgone raising people’s salaries from $200 to $400 grand a year a few times over and they’d have the funding,” Vicki Nauman, former UI swimmer and Save Hawkeye Sports member, told the Gazette.
The projected shortfall for UI Athletics in FY 2021 is approximately $75 million. The normally self-sufficient department took the unusual step of soliciting a $50 million loan from the wider university (which is facing its own budget shortfalls). Employees who took pay cuts, voluntary or required, saved UI Athletics $1.6 million.
Though Kirk Ferentz accepted his full salary and bonuses, Senior Associate Athletics Director Matt Henderson told the Gazette that Ferentz and his wife Mary “contributed to the department’s savings goal” by honoring their existing philanthropic commitment of $100,000 a year for four years “to support football letterwinner initiatives.” This commitment was made in June 2019.
Henderson also said the Ferentzes have “provided nearly $1 million in private support to the Athletics Department” over the years, but did not specify any pandemic-related donations.
All UI Athletics employees who did receive pay cuts due to COVID-19 will return to their full, contracted salaries on July 1.
Like McCaffrey, Bluder and others, the coaches of the Hawkeye teams on the chopping block — JD Reive, head men’s gymnastics coach; Marc Long, head coach for UI swimming and diving; and Ross Wilson, head men’s tennis coach — volunteered for a pandemic pay cut. UI administration turned them down.