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YSU cuts $2 million from athletic budget

Part of school’s response to pandemic financial challenges

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown State athletics department will endure a budget cut of roughly $2 million and see the elimination of 22 positions in response to financial challenges from the coronavirus pandemic.

The university announced the budget reductions in a press release Wednesday.

Ron Strollo, the executive director of intercollegiate athletics, said the specific positions that will be cut have not yet been determined in most cases, but both administrators and coaches will be affected.

“We’re right around 90 to 100 staff members, so you’re close to 25 percent of your staff that this is affecting,” Strollo said. “Some of those are coaching positions. Most if not all sports have been affected, and then some administrative positions. On top of that, there have been some salary reductions of the higher-salaried coaches and administrative staff.”

The cuts come after the university had to repay nearly $3 million in revenue losses from student fee refunds. A large portion of the spring semester was completed virtually with online courses (from March 30 to May 8).

YSU also is dealing with a $1.6 million cut in state funding over the last three months of the fiscal year.

The athletics department, specifically, had the majority of its spring sports seasons cancelled, and the university suffered losses with reductions in costs for summer school as well. While the cuts were significant, Strollo again said no sports will be eliminated, and he does not see that occurring in the future.

“Every decision we made, we tried to think of what’s in the best interests of our students,” Strollo said. “The next thing you go to is what’s in the best interest of the institution, and in this case, it’s the bottom line. In both of those scenarios, cutting sports doesn’t make a lot of sense. Number one, it really affects these students and their families. If we were to drop sports or do those things, it’s very trying on those kids and their families. They’ve committed a lot to come here, and most are on little or no scholarships.

“The second piece to that,” he added, “is financially, we’ve actually expanded our athletic programs by adding men’s swimming and women’s lacrosse, doubling the roster of our cross-country programs (12 to 24) to help with enrollment. It would counter that idea to cut sports. We’re going to be up to 500 athletes this fall, one of the largest — as far as enrollment goes — one of the largest numbers even in the state. So, we’re doing that to try and help the university’s bottom line and generate students.”

Some of the cuts within the administration included Strollo.

The 19-year AD had his salary cut by 8 percent. YSU coach Doug Phillips suffered a 10-percent decrease in his wages, and the first-year mentor hasn’t even coached a game yet.

Phillips, who added that he eliminated four coaching positions when he was hired to help save money, said he understands the situation.

“We’re all making sacrifices in this time of going through this situation,” Phillips said. “We all want to do more. To me, it’s whatever we need to do to help our university and our state, (so) I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed. You always want to do what you can through a crisis. That’s part of the deal.”

The release from the university indicated that more cuts are inevitable.

Strollo said the fluid and uncertain situation with COVID-19 has led to uncertainty for the university as well. Aside from not knowing whether students will be returning to normal in-class courses in the fall, there are numerous questions surrounding sports.

There are major decisions to be made about whether athletics will have a fall season, not to mention if fans will be in attendance, when the season will start and end or how travel will be affected. It’s led to a lot of scenarios for Strollo to ponder.

“As we look forward to the fall,” he said, “just trying to prepare for the unknown and trying to make sure our kids are safe, we’re developing plans and looking at our schedule to make sure we’re staying close to home. We’re trying to do day trips as much as we can, trying to lower the travel party — the number of student-athletes we bring, just to lower our expenses and their exposure to each other and other people. And any other operating costs, from officiating to equipment, that we can try and trim down to help the cause.

“We probably have 15 to 20 different scenarios that we’re trying to develop because we still don’t know what the fall is going to look like.”

Strollo said he hopes to know more about fall sports within the next “four to six weeks.”

More cuts could happen at that time. He said the university is doing what it can to mitigate the impact on students and employees.

“We’re trying to be flexible, but where we can make decisions now on lowering expenses, we’re trying to make some of those adjustments and schedules,” he said. “As far as exactly knowing where every dime is going to come from, we might not know that until January or February.”

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