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COVID-19 deficits could endanger future of the IHSA

Dave Eminian
Journal Star
Morton Potters celebrate their IHSA Class 3A trophy after a 63-43 win Thursday, February 27, 2020 over Peoria High Lions.

PEORIA — The Illinois High School Association sounded a warning bell of its own Thursday, the day after the state’s elementary school association confirmed it was in financial difficulty and might eventually have to suspend operations.

"I was fully aware of their situation, (Illinois Elementary School Association executive director) Steve Endsley and I talk regularly," IHSA executive director Craig Anderson said. "I feel awful for how things have happened for IESA. We're all just trying to work through this."

Anderson said the IHSA faces financial challenges as well, and without spectators permitted to attend events, the revenue losses will be substantial.

"If we had to continue without spectators? We couldn't survive beyond this (2020-21) school year," Anderson said. “It would be an incredible challenge to continue as we are. We'd have to take rather significant steps. I don't know that we'd go under, but the services we provide to schools would certainly be reduced."

Anderson also said the IHSA likely will green-light basketball games even if the Illinois Department of Public Health announces next week no spectators will be allowed. He also detailed the IHSA’s financial outlook and measures the organization might have to take to be able to continue operating amid the pandemic.

The IHSA required participation fees from its 815 member schools this fall for the first time since 2004-05, charging $100 per school, per sport, for entry of each team or individuals into state playoff series.

Anderson said the IHSA board of directors has been discussing continuing those fees for the winter and spring sports, noting it has not officially been decided yet, but the board does have a framework in place.

"Right now, we're using a rainy day fund to operate," Anderson said. "We're using investments set up in the past by (former IHSA executive director) Marty Hickman. It can help sustain us, but we don't want to deplete it. It's designed to fund a season where we have historically bad weather and can't have a state series. It's not designed for a pandemic."

Anderson said the IHSA was hit with a $1.5 million deficit last spring when COVID-19 shut down sports and wiped out a huge financial windfall event in the annual boys basketball state finals in Peoria.

The organization started a new fiscal year, for 2020-21, on July 1.

"This fall, as of right now, I'd estimate us already at a deficit of $1.5 million to $2 million," Anderson said. "That's because much of our fall sports were moved forward to the spring. So we lost revenue from all of our fall sports. That can change. We don't know yet what will happen with all those spring sports (including the fall sports moved into the spring calendar). If by then we have spectators permitted, that deficit goes down."

Anderson, meanwhile, is waiting for the IDPH decision — due Wednesday — on whether the state will permit high school basketball to be played in November. And of course, whether spectators will be permitted. The latter is critical for the IHSA and individual schools in generating revenue from ticket sales, merchandise sales, concessions and other revenue sources.

"If IDPH says we can play, but without spectators, we will probably play basketball," Anderson said. "We'll do that for the kids. But we're going to have to find budget cuts, continue participation fees to the schools, reduce the financial guarantees paid to tournament host schools, look for other measures.

"And without spectators allowed, individual schools’ budgets are going to be impacted, too. We can lean on our membership.

"But without spectators allowed, we'd go deeper into the hole financially than if we didn't play at all. None of us know for sure how many seasons we might have to go on like this."

Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.

Craig Anderson