Two months ago, Mario Cristobal was in line for a pay raise with Oregon coming off a Pac-12 championship season and Rose Bowl victory.
Dana Altman and Kelly Graves, after guiding their talented basketball teams to Pac-12 championships, were preparing for deep NCAA Tournament runs, which would have triggered lucrative contract bonuses.
Then the COVID-19 health crisis forced the cancellation of in-person classes and sporting events. The impact of the economic downturn is being felt by the university and its athletic department.
And the buck isn’t just stopping with UO president Michael Schill and athletics director Rob Mullens, who have taken 12% and 10% salary reductions, respectively.
Oregon announced on Thursday that all of the school’s head coaches have also agreed to take 10% salary reductions for the 2020-21 academic year, which will save the department about $1.1 million.
"We appreciate the leadership role taken on by our head coaches as we deal with this unprecedented crisis," Mullens said in a release. "This speaks to the selfless nature of our Oregon coaching staff and their desire to help us navigate the current challenges and those on the horizon.”
Oregon’s coaches also agreed to forego all of the performance incentives in their contracts for the 2020-21 season.
Cristobal was negotiating a new deal after leading the Ducks to a 12-2 finish. His $2.6 million base salary last season ranked eighth among his Pac-12 peers, according to the USA Today coaching salary base.
“The most appropriate thing to be attending to is the welfare, the safety, the health of our football players, our staff and all that stuff,” Cristobal said during a teleconference with reporters in March. “So that’s what the focus is right now. When the time comes, we’ll appropriately address the rest.”
The football program generates over 70% of Oregon’s athletics revenue.
Altman has the highest base salary among Oregon’s head coaches at $3.2 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Graves’ base salary is $750,000.
The NCAA made the decision on March 12 to pull the plug on its basketball tournaments.
The NCAA depends on the men’s basketball tournament for nearly all of its $1.1 billion in normal annual revenue. The planned distribution of $600 million to member schools will be cut to $225 million, including $50 million from NCAA reserves.
Oregon’s athletic department received $2.1 million in NCAA distributions during the previous fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019.
“This is so much bigger than basketball,” Altman said the day after the NCAA Tournament was canceled. “The people that are making these decisions have a lot more information than we have. So obviously these decisions were tough for the people who made them, but they had to make this decision.
“It’s just part of life. It’s one that’s not fun, but there’s a health crisis going on. We need to be aware of that, and this is just a small part of it.”
Track and field coach Robert Johnson ($350,000), softball coach Melyssa Lombardi ($345,000) and baseball coach Mark Wasikowski ($337,500) all had their spring sports canceled due to the coronavirus.
The base salaries for Oregon’s other head coaches range from $242,500 to $58,500.
Schill announced this week that university leaders are making plans to bring students back to campus for in-person learning this fall.
Conference commissioners have told Vice President Mike Pence that college football will not return until students are back on campus.
The Ducks are scheduled to open the 2020 season on Sept. 5 against North Dakota State at Autzen Stadium.
"Our goal is to accelerate from this situation well-positioned to continue to achieve our goals of broad-based excellence and of providing an exceptional student-athlete experience,” Mullens said. “We are thankful to our head coaches for their collective and consistent actions in supporting our mission."
Contact reporter Ryan Thorburn at email@example.com or 541-338-2330, and follow him on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn and Instagram @rg_ducksports. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.