EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) — The University of Texas at El Paso announced in September that it was furloughing employees and cutting jobs in their athletic department due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
KFOX14 dug deeper and has learned for some employees, they're being furloughed for nearly half of a year.
"We had 98 employees. 88 are taking furloughs," Mark McGurk, Vice President for Business Affairs at UTEP, said.
McGurk explained the severity the COVID-19 pandemic is having on athletics.
We have five positions that were eliminated and there are two vacant positions right now that they aren’t filling so they will probably stay empty probably for the entire fiscal year," McGurk said. "Athletics is an auxiliary services unit which means they have to generate their own revenues and if they don’t generate sufficient revenues, they have to cut expenses and that’s the purpose of the furloughs that are being undertaken by the athletics department at this point.
Furlough lengths for each employee vary, but for some, they're out of their job for nearly half of a year.
"The furloughs range anywhere from two weeks to 24 weeks," McGurk said. "It's a decision made by the athletics department based, I suppose, on need and whether or not they could support those positions and when they needed those positions."
What isn't helping this situation is the recent postponements of football games.
On Tuesday Florida International University announced it would not be able to play the miners Saturday.
This is now the third time an opponent has postponed a game against UTEP in the last four weeks.
KFOX14 asked McGurk if he foresees other or additional athletics positions dealing with furloughs.
"It's hard to anticipate that right now. In the city of El Paso school districts are cancelling games as well. We had to postpone a game due to a COVID outbreak at that institution, not here in El Paso. It’s really hard to make determinations about employment going forward and about what’s going to happen with athletics without having more input or more data," McGurk said.
Less games means reduced revenue. McGurk said the athletics department had no other choice.
"The expectation is they will save $1.1 million in salary savings due to the furloughs and the layoffs," McGurk said. "We have a stadium that seats 46,000 people and under the Governors order we could only essentially fill it up 50% but after you do social distancing, associated with trying to keep groups away from each other by six feet to prevent the spread of COVID, we cut down to less than 8,600 seats in that stadium so that’s all you can essentially sell. The seats are limited because of the social distancing requirements so that has effected the amount of revenue that can be generated from the football games considerably."
The concern over revenue loss now bleeds into men's basketball with uncertainty of how the pandemic could affect its season.
"If we undergo the same thing for men’s basketball which are the two major sports that generate revenues, it’s going to reduce the amount or size of the seats available in the Don Haskins considerably and that will effect revenues as well," McGurk said. "The conference has limited the number of seats that are going to be available to 15 percent and so that’s going to effect the number of people that can actually be in the Don Haskins."
McGurk said it's his understanding employees can take the furlough days throughout the remainder of the fiscal year.
This has a major impact on them. Anyone that has to take a pay cut is going to essentially be hurt individually and I really want people to understand that we’re doing this to try to save as many positions as possible. Essentially if they had to deal with a bigger cut then we would have to eliminate even more positions," McGurk said. "I feel for the very hard-working and dedicated people in our athletics department that are really focused on trying to provide this entertainment for the city but also to be competitive in their sports within the league.
Men’s head basketball coach Rodney Terry and head football coach Dana Dimel have agreed to accept cuts in their salaries for the coming year but UTEP cannot comment at this time about how much they will be taking because their contracts are currently being negotiated with their agents.
The Director of Athletics, Jim Senter, will also be taking ten days of furlough.
"I would point out almost every single person in the athletics department is being affected by this," McGurk said.
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