Iowa athletics saw $3.5 million budget deficit in 2019-20 as 'March Madness' was canceled

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa's athletic department ran a deficit of $3.5 million in 2019-20, as the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the lucrative NCAA men's basketball tournament.

It was the first time the athletic department didn't meet expenses in four years, with the largest gap being a decline of nearly $3 million in NCAA distributions, the bulk of which comes from the popular tournament known as "March Madness." The NCAA scrapped all of its winter championships as the coronavirus started spreading widely in the United States in March 2020. Spring sports seasons were also wiped out.

Iowa's latest financial report to the NCAA, made public this week, ran through June 30, 2020, covering the first three months of the pandemic in Iowa. Iowa athletic director Gary Barta has estimated that his department will be short $55-65 million in the current fiscal year.

This news follows back-to-back years in which Iowa totaled $12.7 million in budget surpluses, allowing Barta to build a $4 million reserve fund. He was hoping to increase that total to $10 million, he told the Register last winter.

"I want to make sure that, if we ever have a year where we fall short, we can pay our bills,” Barta said then, a statement that proved prophetic.

Previously:Iowa athletic department brings in $5.7 million more than it spent

In addition to the lost revenue from the basketball tournament, Iowa saw a $1.4 million decline in ticket sales, even though all fall and winter home seasons were completed before the shutdown. The total was $25.7 million, affected by not hosting Iowa State in football in 2019. Revenue from men's and women's basketball also lagged.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta saw a $3.5 million gap in his budget for 2019-20, largely due to the cancellation of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. It was his first budget deficit in four years, with a much heftier toll expected this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not having the Cyclones on the home schedule also meant Iowa had to pay for an extra non-conference football opponent, which resulted in a $2 million increase in money spent on "guarantee" games.

The athletic department spent $32.6 million on facility/debt services, an increase from $31 million in 2018-19.

Salary costs continued to rise, with coaches and athletic department staff earning $47.5 million, up $1.5 million from the previous year.

There were signs elsewhere that the pandemic may have eaten into Iowa's bottom line, with reductions in money received from the Big Ten Conference (no doubt because its basketball tournaments were also canceled), royalties and licensing, sports camps, and investment/endowment revenue.

Not adjusting for inflation, it was Iowa's largest annual deficit since 2011-12, when it was nearly $6.8 million. Iowa athletics brought in $145.64 million while spending $149.16 million in Fiscal Year 2020.

In 2018-19, the university ranked fifth in the 14-member Big Ten with $152 million in revenue.

On the plus side, Iowa's media rights revenue continued to climb in Fiscal Year 2020, up $1.3 million to $46.4 million.

Iowa also brought in more money in donor contributions at $36.3 million, a $900,000 increase.

In addition, the university saw savings in recruiting, travel, meal money and game expenses as the pandemic brought things to a halt.

Analysis: Stakes high for Iowa, Barta in Title IX lawsuit: Experts say swimmers have a good case

Barta implemented cost-saving measures last summer that included salary reductions and furloughs; the elimination of about 40 staff positions; and, most controversially, the dropping of four of his 24 sports programs after this season. Men's gymnastics, men's tennis, and men's swimming and diving are all slated for elimination. So is women's swimming and diving, but that planned move has resulted in a Title IX lawsuit, which is working its way through the court system.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.