How Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns athletics could lose up to $8M in fiscal year 2021

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

A Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s report shows the last fiscal year ended with about a $6 million deficit for a Ragin Cajuns athletic department that fears things could get worse before they’re better.

In the fiscal year 2020, which closed at the end of June 2020 and includes the 2019 football season, an unaudited statement shows UL had $36,187,952 in expenses and $30,207,252 in revenue.

That’s a loss of $5,980,700, up from about $4.6 million the prior year, when revenue was approximately $32.5 million and total expenses about $37.1 million.

Expenses in fiscal year 2020 include almost $12 million for the football program, which brought in only $4 million; $2.56 million for men’s basketball, which generated about $1.1 million in revenue; $1.76 million for women’s basketball, which brought in $216,028; and $8.8 million in sports, which generated $1.9 million.

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How can the Cajuns recoup?

In a COVID-19 era where athletic revenue at many NCAA institutions is plummeting, how does UL go about recouping more than $10 million in athletic deficit from the last two years?

“In an effort to recover these losses,” athletic director Bryan Maggard told The Daily Advertiser, “the department of athletics will work with university leadership on a variety of strategies.”

What those strategies are amount to one more question of uncertainty brought about by almost 12 months of unpredictability for a country still reeling from the pandemic.

The 2020 fiscal calendar includes the first three-and-a-half months after the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down sports at UL and most other NCAA institutions.

The picture could be even bleaker in the current fiscal year.

“It could be (a deficit of) anywhere from $4 million to $8 million,” Maggard said.

But the $4 million figure, Maggard added, “would be very optimistic.”

Director of Athletics Dr Bryan Maggard on the sidelines as The Louisiana Ragin Cajuns take down Georgia Southern 20-18 at Cajun Field. Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020.

How the UL losses add up

Maggard said his department has cut expenses by about $3 million in fiscal year 2021 compared to 2020, “primarily between not filling vacant positions, travel … and then just a miscellaneous bucket of various expenses, whether that’s supplies, equipment, cutting back on our vendor expenses.”

“Our goal is to end this fiscal year with expenses somewhere in the $29 million range,” Maggard said. “We think we can get there … (by continuing) to cut back on a variety of expenses.”

Due to the pandemic and limited seating capacity at Cajun Field, however, Maggard said the Cajuns anticipate being down about $1 million in football season revenue from the 2020 season compared to 2019.

Losses in men’s basketball, baseball and softball season ticket revenue are anticipated to be about another $500,000 based on capacity limitations.

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Maggard said a lower stream of “RCAF investor revenue” – down anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million – also is anticipated. The Cajuns lost an anticipated $1.3 million payday when the SEC canceled all non-conference football and UL could not play its 2020 guarantee game at Missouri. 

And UL still doesn’t know yet what NCAA and Sun Belt Conference distribution for the current fiscal year will be, but a loss of about $500,000 compared to the prior year has been projected.

The cancellation of last season’s NCAA basketball tournament because of the pandemic resulted in a $600 million annual decline in total revenue for its 2020 fiscal year, USA TODAY recently reported.

Another uncertain variable: UL doesn’t know how much money in institutional auxiliary support it will receive during a fiscal year in which COVID-19 also has impacted the university’s academic affairs.

The athletic department received $16.544 million of such support in fiscal year 2020, down from about $18 million the prior year.

“We know campus is still trying … to decrease its expenses,” Maggard said, “and all that will … determine what level of support we can get.”

Maggard said UL also “budgeted for about $500,000 in COVID expenses” in fiscal year 2021, but fully anticipates exceeding that.

UL’s athletic department, Maggard said, also has about 10 vacant positions it is “holding off on filling.”

That represents about 10 percent of full-time employees.

Not making new hires also helps to contain costs. But Maggard said he wouldn’t be surprised if COVID-related expenses – including testing, cleaning and personal protective equipment – approach $1 million.

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Lesson learned in COVID-19 era

As fearful as he is about how high the deficit could be this fiscal year, however, Maggard seems confident the Cajuns can recover losses and get back to having a balanced budget like in past years.

How they do that, though, is more about generalities than specifics for now.

“We’re working closely with university leadership on an overall financial plan for the university that would certainly include athletics,” Maggard said.

“I think what you’ll see us focus on … (are) expense cuts, being more efficient with how we spend our money as well as greater effort on generating revenue through donations and ticket sales primarily.”

But Maggard also faces a reality that the cost of the pandemic will be much more than a one-year hit, especially with revenue streams not going back to normal anytime soon.

“I think what we’re all learning in both higher education and athletics,” he said, “is the impacts of COVID are not limited to FY21 (fiscal year 2021).

“I think we’re all going to have be prepared to operate a little bit more differently, operate more efficiently, in FY22 as well.”

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