UCCS, CSU-Pueblo not considering sports program cuts

UCCS and CSU-Pueblo both dismissed the possibility of cutting sports programs Wednesday, as other schools face similar budget challenges due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19 interrupting collegiate sports.

UCCS Athletics Director Nathan Gibson said the 2020-21 athletics budget will be trimmed by 10-15 percent to account for lost revenue. The Mountain Lions, who have added a number of sports in recent years (most notably, baseball and lacrosse in 2016-17) committed to the longevity of their 16 varsity programs.

"Everybody is cutting budgets, everybody is making tough decisions," Gibson said during a Zoom interview Wednesday. "But at the very foremost of those conversations has been protecting those people and those programs and understanding there are some other sacrifices we have to make."

Some of those sacrifices include a restriction on long-distance travel for sports teams. Instead of cross-country tournaments that are common for teams at the beginning of the season, many Division 2 programs will remain close to home. Gibson also noted the Mountain Lions will be increasing their fundraising efforts as officials look for a long-term solution.

It's been our goal at UCCS to get to these 16 programs and make sure they have the support that they need," Gibson said. "I can't really predict the future, but I really think our campus is committed to those programs and we have some good plans in the meantime to weather the storm so we don't have to make those nuclear option decisions."

Officials at CSU-Pueblo also said they have not discussed cutting any of their 22 varsity sports. Thunderwolves football consistently draws crowds in the top 10 nationally for Division 2, and would take a big financial hit without the weekly fall revenue.

"I am anxious about the fall sports season," Pack Athletics Director Paul Plinske said. "We pack 6,500 people in that stadium every home game and people love it.

"But we know that we have a dynamic with the demographics of our season ticket holders," Plinske said. "A lot of them are over 65. In the fall of 2020 they may take a pass and listen to the game on the radio."

That's why CSU-Pueblo is seeking new streams of revenue, including exploring a possible pay-per-view model for their football games. The university is also slashing its operating budget by 15% to help in balancing their future expenses.

Plinske said the University is keeping on its full-time athletics staff of 65 people, and honoring scholarships for their student-athletes during this period of uncertainty. If fans are allowed to return to the Neta and Eddie DeRose Thunderbowl, Pack officials area looking at a possibility of returning a max of 50% capacity inside. Season ticket packages will still be available, which will be refunded if the 2020 schedule is canceled completely.

But both Gibson and Plinske are confident, one way or another, that collegiate sports will return in the fall.

"I think that we could provide a sporting venue for our student-athletes, I do think we could social distance." Plinske said. "I think there's a lot of creative ways Division 2 can operate that Division 1 can't. I'm actually pretty optimistic at this time. I think America is ready for sports to return."