The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on athletic budgets across the country, and the South Carolina athletics department is no exception. The loss of revenue due to limited ticket sales, a conference-only schedule and the expensive coaching change for the football program left the Gamecocks relying heavily on television contracts and the Gamecock Club to ride out the pandemic.
USC's athletic department is projecting the expected outstanding debt to be more than $160 million on June 30, 2021.
At a Board of Trustees retreat on Jan. 15, Chief Financial Officer Ed Walton said that the “athletic revenue ... suffered mightily.” Though Walton expects a full recovery by 2026, he admitted it is going to be a "long road."
John Humphries, the athletics budget director for USC, said revenue from televised games is a "significant" portion of the budget and will be crucial for future financial success.
“Even if you had no fans, playing those games and getting the games on TV was very important to be able to operate this year,” Humphries said.
The Gamecocks will benefit from their SEC conference affiliation even more in 2024, when a conference-wide television contract with ESPN officially goes into effect.
The Gamecock Club is another aspect of the department's finances that Humphries considers to be “vital."
Steven Eigenbrot, executive associate athletics director for development and CEO of the Gamecock Club, said the funds it generates are used solely to better student athletes through scholarships and cost of attendance funds.
Humphries said even if there were no athletic events whatsoever, the department would still have scholarship expenses. The Gamecock Club's role in covering those costs is “fundamental," Humphries said.
Despite offering refunds for this year's memberships due to COVID-19, the Gamecock Club's fund lost only a little over $1 million in refunds, Eigenbrot said.
He said most members of the club were "loyal and understanding" of the real impact these funds have on the university’s student athletes.
“We should all be proud of being Gamecocks,” Eigenbrot said.
On top of the pandemic-related financial issues, the budget took another major blow after the termination of head football coach Will Muschamp. Since he was under contract until 2024, his buyout cost the department roughly $15.5 million.
Unlike most typical coaching buyouts, Muschamp’s did not have a “duty to mitigate” clause. This means the university is responsible for the buyout even if Muschamp finds other employment.
The hiring of new head football coach Shane Beamer brings another expense: he is scheduled to make $2.75 million per season during his five-year contract.
Since Beamer is still constructing his coaching staff, the exact impact these new hires have on the budget is yet to be determined.
Humphries said he and his team are “hoping for the best, but planning for the worst.”
Eigenbrot, on the other hand, remains confident.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think our opportunity to be a viable athletic department, and pay our bills and operate in any way shape or form will be impacted," Eigenbrot said.