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With no sports, Anne Arundel high school athletic directors worry about long-term budget issues

In this file photo from November, people lineup to purchase a ticket to the Broadneck-Arundel playoff football game at Arundel High School. Many Anne Arundel County athletic directors worry about the long-term budgetary impact of a year without sports.
In this file photo from November, people lineup to purchase a ticket to the Broadneck-Arundel playoff football game at Arundel High School. Many Anne Arundel County athletic directors worry about the long-term budgetary impact of a year without sports. (Terrance Williams For Capital Gazette/Capital Gazette)

Annapolis High athletic director Pete Alvanos spent his Wednesday morning sorting out packages of newly shipped equipment and looking out over a field that’s not supposed to be empty.

On any other Aug. 12, his student-athletes, like those at other schools around Anne Arundel County, would be beginning fall sports tryouts. That preseason would lead into September, and fans pouring through ticket gates to watch games and buy concessions.

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This year, none of that will happen. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association postponed fall and winter sports to 2021 at the earliest. With it goes any revenue schools could make selling tickets to spectators.

Many colleges and universities are openly worrying over the state of their respective budgets without college football to fund athletics and other campus expenses for the year. ESPN reported in May that college football could cost schools $4 billion this year.

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While that problem isn’t as dire for Anne Arundel County, many athletic directors worry about the impact a year without sports could have on their budgets long-term.

The county’s Office of Athletics delivers a “materials of instruction allotment” every school year, comparable to what other school departments receive. According to AACPS Coordinator of Athletics Clayton Culp, those funds are used to buy things like balls, helmets, and so on.

“At the end of last year, we were OK because the office athletics were able to sub athletics with individual things they needed. The interesting question will be how does that affect 2021-22 school year?” Alvanos said. “Those funds we received helped through the fall and winter gates, but we’re not getting those this year.”

Many athletic directors have prepared the best they can.

Back in May, South River athletic director David Klingel predicated that, should there be football in 2020, it would be without fans, and he acted accordingly. He froze most of the Seahawks’ spending, with the exception of a few things here and there, such as recognition for senior athletes. There is still money set for buying safety equipment and cleaning supplies.

“It’s been weird not calling my uniform or apparel guy too much,” Klingel said, “but I think like anybody, the more fiscally responsible you are in this period, the better because you never know what can happen.”

Alvanos views the situation like his own checkbook. If it’s something Annapolis really needs, he’ll buy it. If not, he’ll hold off.

“I’ve got the essentials we need to have a productive sports half-year. Now, talk to me this time next year, I’m not sure where we’ll be,” Alvanos said. “... But once that day has come that says this is what it’s going to look like, I will ensure every athletic team at Annapolis has everything it needs from uniforms to safety equipment to field a team that certainly Annapolis High can be proud of.”

Chesapeake also does not take in most of its funds from gate receipts, said athletic director Chip Snyder, but that does not mean the Cougars won’t feel some effects from the shift of the football season. Though it was only going to host four home games this year, as opposed to the typical five, Chesapeake was to be the host of the Dena Bowl, the annual, hotly-anticipated clash between the Cougars football team and their rival Northeast.

“That usually brings in our biggest gate, every two years,” Snyder said. “So that money will be lost.”

Timing-wise, most schools were fortunate when it came to bigger projects. Northeast just installed its baseball field fencing as the last step of a refurbishment project that began six years ago. Alvanos converted a messy closet to make a storage area for each team, and improved sound systems and aesthetics. South River installed a new ticket booth.

“Ultimately, by not having the football season, we’re going to lose out on small things that we get to make the place look nicer that we wont be able to buy, whether it’s new banners, new flags, spirit items, individual equipment pieces for teams. Maybe we forgo a year and do it next year,” Snyder said. “The Board of Ed has been helpful to us as well. If it’s a crunch item and we really need something, we always reach out to them.”

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Because of the success of Annapolis’ boys basketball team and by hosting the wrestling county championships, Alvanos noted the school boosters were able to earn more money than usual. Some of that was spent but the rest will be conserved to provide the Panthers with what they need down the road.

Snyder knows if Chesapeake requires a big-ticket item, such as finally installing a fresh sound system, bleachers on the road side of the field or or a field house, he’d have to ask his boosters, which he’s praised profusely.

This year, that might not be an easy request.

Broadneck athletic director Kevin Necessary likewise admires the vitality of the Bruins booster club. On the other hand, he also knows the boosters will feel an economic impact from losing out on fall and winter games as well. At Broadneck, boosters raised funds for the school’s field house and new weight room. Necessary said “we’re probably going to have to get a little creative” without having football games.

Not every school’s budget will eat from the same spread. Right now, most of Northeast athletic director Ken Miller’s orders are on hold.

Without half an academic year’s gate sales and with the possibility of losing the second one as well if the pandemic doesn’t improve, equally funding 2021-22 sports would be an issue.

“There are schools out there that have more active booster programs. Some schools, boosters buy all the uniforms. But our school is based off gate receipts,” Miller said. “So, we’ve been a little more cautious about spending.”

Culp noted that there are mechanisms in place to assist schools whose gate revenue is lower than others.

“If this goes on a second year? I definitely would see [us] kind of hamstrung a little bit about what we could purchase. Might even have to skip a year of a uniform cycle,” Miller said.

Most schools’ athletic directors who spoke with The Capital concurred uniforms might be the thing to go first as budgets grow slimmer. Most schools buy uniforms on a cycle; at Northeast, for instance, four teams a year are given new ones. Klingel has already put South River’s uniform purchases on a one-year freeze and switched his cycle from a three-year to a four-year pattern.

There are other items to be concerned about. Klingel posed the question of equipment to his fellow athletic directors at a recent virtual meeting.

“We have our football helmets all certified to go. If they’re not used this year, do we get an extra year on that? Or do we have to get them re-certified to next year?” Klingel mused. “That costs about $6,000 to $10,000 to get them all re-certified every year.”

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Some of the biggest costs for schools in other systems are busing athletes to and from games and paying for referees and other officials. That’s where Anne Arundel schools catch a break: AACPS pays for that.

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AACPS approved $1,313,120 in student and team travel for the 2020 fiscal year, as well as $445,000 for game officials. The approved budget for “interscholastic athletic supplies” was $244,724 and for larger equipment, $47,579.

“I have faith in our [AACPS] leadership,” Necessary said, “that when we get back to a sense of normalcy and we’re back on the fields, that they will figure out a way to move forward.”

Uncertainty still clouds the future.

“Right now it is hard to say how this year will pan out, but we don’t anticipate much in the way of gate receipts or concessions at all,” Culp said. “We will certainly be adjusting our normal practices accordingly and assisting schools in as equitable a fashion as possible.”

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