BOONE — Appalachian State last week announced that mandatory furloughs would be implemented for all full-time employees of the Athletics Office, affecting 106 staff.
The furlough plan will reduce the hours worked by most Athletics employees over a 90-day period, Chancellor Sheri Everts said in a June 12 email to campus. A smaller number of employees will be on continuous furloughs, but for shorter periods of time, she said. All furloughed employees will retain health insurance and other employee benefits, according to the email.
“We are working each day to manage the significant ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its financial impact on our campus has hit our receipt-supported areas the hardest,” Everts said. “By implementing furloughs, it is our goal to protect as many jobs as possible as we navigate the financial consequences of this pandemic.”
The university’s Athletics Office is projecting an approximate $5 million shortfall in the 2020-21 budget as a result of the pandemic, the university said. In late May, the office announced it was cutting three men’s sports programs — soccer, tennis and indoor track — for the long-term sustainability of the university’s athletics programs and in response to the budget shortfall.
In mid-March, the department limited all remaining operating expenses for fiscal year 2020, which ends June 30, and the department is not filling current athletics staff openings, it said. It is also looking at scheduling and travel strategies to make cuts.
“We are hopeful this will be the last step we need to take to address their significant financial challenges,” Everts said June 12.
In a document providing information on the sports program cuts, the office answered the question “Could construction projects and facility enhancements have been halted in order to save these sports?” by stating that “The funding models for each of our current construction projects were finalized prior to COVID-19 and are separate from our operating revenue streams.”
Furloughs are limited to receipt-supported areas, and Human Resources and Business Affairs have been diligently engaged in finding ways to protect as many jobs as possible, Everts said.
“To avoid additional furloughs, I asked that people in other receipt-supported areas, including Campus Dining, be reassigned to the important work of safely returning our students, faculty and staff to campus,” she said.
In a June 12 statement posted on the App State Athletics website, Athletics Director Doug Gillin did not reference the furloughs and instead detailed plans for the return of athletes to campus.
“While it has been a very challenging season for many of us, we have spent considerable time and effort developing our plans for the safe return of student-athletes, coaches and staff to our campus,” Gillin said.
Following the NCAA’s decision to allow voluntary workouts beginning June 1, App State instituted phase one with the reintroduction of members of the football and athletic training staff on June 2, Gillin said. Included in this phase were a small group of student-athletes who are recovering from injuries, he said.
The next group of 20 football student-athletes began voluntary workouts on Monday, June 15, under the supervision of strength and conditioning staff while following specific health and safety guidelines. Two more groups of football student-athletes will be allowed to return on June 22 and July 6, Gillin said.
“Each student-athlete will be tested for COVID-19 before participating in any activity,” he said.
Men’s and women’s basketball team members will return in phases beginning July 6. Other fall sport student-athletes and staff will be phased back to campus ahead of the Aug. 17 first day of classes.
“We will make training spaces available at the Ricks Athletics Center, Sofield Family Indoor Practice Facility and Holmes Convocation Center,” Gillin said. “Each sport will have student-athletes broken into pods consisting of small groups to ensure physical distancing and safety.”
All student-athletes (and staff who work directly with student-athletes) will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival to campus. A student-athlete who tests positive will self-isolate for at least 14 days in accordance with CDC guidelines and receive daily checkups from App State medical staff.
Among the protocols for student-athletes and staff on campus are a daily health questionnaire, daily temperature and pulse oximeter checks, social distancing of at least six feet, face coverings and proper hand washing, Gillin said.
“We will perform enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of all equipment and facilities before and after every workout, rehab and treatment session,” he added.