As a public service, Shaw Media will provide open access to information related to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emergency. Sign up for the newsletter here
The following is the first in a three-part series of interviews with NIU athletic director about how the school and department are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This entry focuses on the financial situation of the school and department.
When NIU athletic director Sean Frazier talks about potential financial hardships his department or the university as a whole may face due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he uses an old football cliche about how a tough early schedule strengthens a team for when games count more later.
Given the lean years in the middle of the past decade during which the school operated without a budget, Frazier said the department, and the school as a whole, is ready to face additional financial hardships on the horizon due to the pandemic. The school already lost around $500,000 from the cancellation of the MAC men's basketball tournament, he said.
"I see a great sense of leadership starting with our president, Lisa Freeman, and pride that we've gone through a lot of these things," Frazier said. "Not to say everything is the same, right? But it's like a tough nonconference schedule. If you have a tough nonconference schedule, it really prepares you for the rest of the conference."
He said he immediately thought of the 2018 football season, in which the Huskies lost games to Power 5 schools Boston College, Iowa and Utah before surging in conference play and winning the MAC Championship game.
"You saw that it 2018 when we had a really audacious, audacious schedule," Frazier said. "Then we kind of ran through the MAC. I have to liken it to that because I've seen so many stepping up dealing with these things. Not that it's a major issue, but that they were prepared to do so."
Frazier said there have already been financial hardships. In addition to the MAC tournament, the NCAA's decision to extend eligibility to current seniors who play a spring sport and had their season canceled also could cost the school about $500,000 he said. He added that number is in a state of flux dependent on a couple of things, mostly how many seniors decide to take that extra year.
There's also going to be money lost from rentals of school facilities potentially.
"But we've also seen a spike in overall generosity, overall support of our donor base that continues to make sure they keep NIU as a priority," Frazier said. "I like where we are right now, this day, this second (Wednesday morning). I know we're going to have a lot more challenges not just financially but from overall operations."
Frazier said most of the cuts made a few years ago are still in effect, so he doesn't anticipate more cuts coming. Although he did not completely rule them out.
"That right there tells the story," Frazier said. "We're at a point where we've made a significant amount of preparatory plans around how we do our operations. We did a thing called program prioritization, which looked at all of our programs. We took a look at our essential staff and how to do operations. Because of all that preparedness, all that stuff we've done, we're at a point where we're lean but from an operational standpoint putting our best foot forward."
He said no one is flinching and feels the school has a "this too shall pass" mentality from the top down.
"All the doom and gloom pieces are real at a national level," Frazier said. "But because we've done our homework to get to this point, we have a lot better pathway and fewer questions about what needs to happen as we move forward."