LINCOLN — The private funding looks good. The design is coming along and close to completion. Nebraska should be readying for the groundbreaking ceremony of its $155 million football facility east of Memorial Stadium.
But the coronavirus pandemic — and the financial gut punch it could deliver to the university’s finances — has put that on hold, Husker Athletic Director Bill Moos said Friday. Nebraska had been scheduled to start construction in June. Now?
“I don’t know,” Moos said. “That will be dependent on where the pandemic’s at.”
UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green declined comment beyond Moos’ statements.
The University of Nebraska has already eliminated 20 positions within its system as it examines at least a $50 million shortfall. UNL’s fiscal year ends June 30.
NU’s athletic department is self-funding and gives scholarship money to the academic side of the school. But it came up $6 million to $7 million short of revenue projections last year, Moos said, due to the loss of NCAA basketball tournament money and gate revenue collected from spring sports.
“If the football season doesn’t look like a traditional season,” Moos said, “we’re out millions and millions upon millions of dollars. Depending on what we’re able to do, especially in football, we’re going to need every dollar we can find to keep our operation as solvent as possible. We’re going to have to make some tough decisions here.”
Unlike many athletic departments, Nebraska has not yet asked any of its coaches or administrators to take pay cuts or furloughs. Coaches have not approached Moos to volunteer for them either.
“We’re taking a wide view of a variety of options,” Moos said. “We have not made any decisions on furloughs or pay cuts. But we are doing a very close review of our staff. Can we consolidate some pieces with some others? You try to find something good out of something like this, and it’s really given us a chance to see where we’re at and some of the changes we might be able to make to our bottom line that was not a bigger priority before it became one.”
Meanwhile, a key project waits to start. Nebraska’s football facilities were last redone in the mid-2000s. At the time, the Hawks indoor football facility, North Stadium football complex and skywalk attaching the two were ahead of the curve.
But the locker room was built to the size specifications of former coach Bill Callahan, who preferred a smaller roster size than Scott Frost with his growing walk-on program. Many walk-ons — and occasionally a scholarship player — use an auxiliary locker room on the second floor of the Hawks Center.
“We don’t have that many seats in our team room,” Frost said in July. “Our position rooms are too small. Our training room is way too small. There’s some things about our facilities that don’t fit the mold of what we’re trying to build right now.”
Even when it was on schedule, the football facility wasn’t supposed to be finished until June 2022, so the Huskers are still in their old digs for two more seasons. But NU had started recruiting future recruiting classes with the facility in mind.
For now, a pandemic and budget crunch take precedent.
“Across campus, we’ve got some serious financial situations we need to feel comfortable with and how we’re addressing those, before we feel comfortable with projects,” Moos said. “We’ve got to make sure everything is running properly, that we’re funded the best we can be before we start going ahead with the construction of project.”
After the NCAA voted to allow workouts to resume June 1, Nebraska is moving forward with plans to start bringing athletes back to campus.