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JMU Athletics has suffered a shortfall of $5.5 million due to COVID-19. 

As JMU Athletics stares at a deep loss, it’s one of many college athletic departments across the country that’s facing sizable financial burdens.

In a Zoom call with members of the media, Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne said JMU is looking at an estimated loss of $5.5 million due to factors caused by the coronavirus.

“We need a lot of money,” Bourne said. “We think as a result of revenue losses, reductions in gift revenue and the expenses that we not only are anticipating that we might have but any that we may have in the future, that figure’s gonna hover around the $5.5 million figure.”

Dukes sports were put on hold mid-March when the coronavirus reached the U.S. Since then, teams have resumed practices and other activities, with brief pauses following outbreaks of positive cases. Fall sports have been suspended and will likely play their respective seasons in the spring. Football will know its fate once the CAA releases its schedule in late October or early November.

The loss of football in the fall plays a major role in the $5.5 million shortfall. The lack of gate receipts from fans coming to Bridgeforth Stadium — which seats 24,877 — dents the normal revenue, but another reason is the loss of the Dukes’ game against UNC.

The Tar Heels were set to send JMU $500,000 as part of the guaranteed payment usually seen in FBS-FCS matchups. However, the ACC’s updated 2020 schedule opted for 10 in-conference games and one non-conference contest, with opportunities to add more teams to its schedule in the event of postponed games.

“This isn’t a new story to JMU Athletics — everybody’s facing the same type of things across the country,” Cliff Wood, senior associate athletics director for development, said. “We’re short in fundraising from the previous year … The COVID[-19]-related expenses alone, obviously we didn’t budget for any of that.”

Bourne said the Dukes likely won’t face an FBS program during this season or the 2021 campaign. JMU is set to travel to Ogden, Utah, to face FCS foe Weber State on Sept. 18, 2021. The next contest against an FBS opponent — one where the Dukes will receive a payment — is at Louisville on Nov. 5. However, Bourne added that the situation is fluid and that a possibility still remains if the right opportunity comes.

In an attempt to make up the half-million amount in losses, JMU launched the “Dukes Unite” campaign. The fundraising campaign is set to be heavily advertised over a seven-week timeline, wrapping up Nov. 7 — what would’ve been Homecoming weekend.

“Our goal is an aggressive campaign,” Bourne said. “We need everybody to be engaged. This is a very, very important crossroads for our athletic program.”

Dukes Unite will help aid the costs of testing and other preventative measures teams will take once their seasons begin. Bourne said he expects a reduction in testing costs, but he added that athletes will likely be tested three times per week during the season, adding extra charges to the yearly budget. According to the JMU’s 2019 Financial Report, the total expenses for Athletics was $33,145,528.

Currently, JMU hasn’t had to make drastic changes to the makeup of its athletic department. Many schools have had to cut teams in order to cut costs, something Bourne has emphasized he wants to avoid. But with schools like William & Mary cutting multiple varsity sports — and now dealing with the fallout — show no university is immune to potential major changes to its sports.

“I hope not,” Bourne said in regard to if JMU would have to cut any sports. “We’ve worked very hard at building a general base of support across the board for our programs. The one thing that we are gonna see impacted significantly this year is the number of competitions that teams will be playing. Those numbers aren’t going to be down just a little bit — they’re gonna be down a lot.”

Bourne said from this year alone, $250,000 in scholarship money was needed to cover the extra eligibility given by the NCAA to spring athletes. The NCAA granted eligibility to fall sport athletes as well, meaning the scholarship costs will extend beyond 2020-21.

JMU also hasn’t announced salary reductions like other schools, some of which are major powers in college sports like Clemson and Ohio State. But, Bourne said JMU Athletics will follow what the university decides.

“We are operating on incredibly thin margins — our goal would be we will follow the university’s lead on whatever they do,” Bourne said. “There has not been an announcement yet [for] furloughs or salary reductions. We’re gonna do everything that we can on the expense side to hopefully stay away from that, but if it is the case, we’ll be a part of the university move in that direction.”

With the majority of collegiate sports set to return in the spring, the pressure is high for JMU to attempt to steady the financial burden while continuing its prowess on the field. If goals aren’t met financially, Bourne said aspects of JMU sports could be altered for upcoming years. For Wood, it means finding ways to fundraise money to make up for coronavirus-related costs to preserve the athletic experience of JMU.

“If things don’t change and we can’t raise money, the way you experience JMU Athletics is gonna change,” Wood said. “We just don’t have the budget to pay for those things.”

Contact Noah Ziegler at breezesports@gmail.com. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.

There comes a time where an athlete realizes their true potential. When I realized that I was never going to make a living on the court, I figured I’d make it on the sidelines. I hope to be able to attend and cover the World Cup and NCAA tournament.