My Horry News previously reported in error that President DeCenzo told the Horry County Higher Education Commission it would cost $500,000 to test athletes before each game this fall. School officials confirm that athletic COVID-19 testing that has taken place has not cost the University any money at all, and the funding for the testing was provided through a donation. No decisions have officially been made about future testing.
Coastal Carolina University announced late Tuesday that employees, depending on their salaries, could see up to a 20-day furlough due to budget issues facing the school.
"This is an incredibly difficult time for many organizations and businesses, and CCU is not immune to the budgetary challenges and impacts brought on by COVID-19,” said CCU President David DeCenzo. “This has been such a hard decision to make, requiring faculty and staff and administration to take furlough days, and it weighs heavy. It is our hope that, with everyone pulling together, this step combined with other expense adjustments will make the difference needed to stabilize the budget.”
According to an email sent to staff Tuesday night, the Mandatory Furlough Plan includes all position types and includes all employees, except those paid less than $33,100, those in federal or externally-funded positions, or those holding H-1B Visa status.
The plan begins July 1, 2020, and is scaled as follows: salaries between $33,101 and $33,600 will take one day; those between $33,601-$34,350 will take five days; those between $34,351 and $35,000 will take ten days; those between $35,001 and $35,750 will take 15 days, and those above $35,751 will take the full 20 days.
The furlough days must be taken during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, and the university has also developed a Voluntary Furlough Program for those interested.
The school hopes to save around $7 million through the furlough plan.
CCU recently released its plans for bringing students back this fall, but like other state universities, many unknowns still exist in terms of enrollment numbers and details surrounding sports participation.
At last week's Horry County Higher Education Commission meeting, DeCenzo said the school is waiting for information from the state about how to proceed with its budget.
“We continue to work with the state…to work through a number of cuts that we’re going to need to be able to balance our budget,” DeCenzo said. “We’re hopeful that within the next week or two that [the state] will finalize their decision on the talks we’ve been having with them.”
DeCenzo also said the school is still dealing with problems from the month before, and according to the May 18 HCHEC meeting minutes, Coastal Provost Dan Ennis told the commission that they were working on cutting corners financially due to a downturn in enrollment and fall operational changes, including possible furloughs and other cuts.
Ennis told the commission confident that a strong recruitment effort will “hopefully help us rebound, if not by next fall, then into next spring.”
DeCenzo said during the most recent meeting that when the school announced it would open in August, schools officials saw more students committing to come back for in-person instruction.
Having a plan is good, DeCenzo said, but uncertainties abound.
“It’s a well-thought-out plan, but those plans can change in a heartbeat,” he said. “We’re hopeful that enrollment will be such that we’re going to be able to make up the revenue shortfalls that we’re anticipating. Most state universities are looking at having to make cuts in one place or another, and hopefully we’ll be pleasantly surprised when August rolls around and we can get our final enrollment numbers.”
He said university officials have to think about how to handle any positive COVID-19 tests and what they would do to quarantine students.
“We are for the most part looking at residents in our residence halls being in single rooms, and again, just trying to work on the social distancing that is going to be necessary…in our classrooms and our residence halls,” DeCenzo said.
Ennis told the commission they are working on their academic plan, which will take all summer to actually implement.
Many factors are being considered in determining what enrollment numbers will be.
“Did they apply? Did they get in? Did they make a deposit? Did they show up? Each time a student clicks one of those buttons, our confidence level increases,” Ennis said. “If they build a schedule, we count that student as just about here. Unfortunately, this year we have an unmeasurable factor – will they do all those things but change their mind? Not be truly comfortable getting out of the car on campus?”
Ennis said every time they make a definitive decision though, parents and students have more concrete information on which to make their decision.
Part of the enrollment uncertainty is due to the economy. Maybe a parent lost a job and there is question about that family's financial situation. In other cases, students simply don't feel comfortable assuming the risk of returning to in-person instruction.
“It’s going to be a tough summer," Ennis said. "We’ve got a lot to do, but we’re working on it."
The commission discussed using some funds to help students shore up the gap between what scholarships cover and what they still owe for tuition, and DeCenzo mentioned that one unnamed university in the state is doing “everything in their power to steal students” from CCU.
Most of the state schools, though, are working with one another, he said.
“There is at least one that is not playing ball in a fair fashion,” DeCenzo noted.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster recently spoke about the state providing some funding to help universities, and DeCenzo said money would go into the 2021 budget cycle to possibly help beef up their technology.
“We all know there are going to be COVID-19 positives on our campus," he said. "What that’s going to do is potentially take an entire floor of a residence hall, or it could take a faculty member or an entire floor. To be able to move everything overnight to all online…We still have this other thing out there called hurricane season.”
He noted they already have a list of faculty members who, because of health accommodations, are going to have to teach online.
“We just need to be able to ensure that we have all the technology so that whether you’re sitting in front of the professor or sitting in your residence hall or your home, you’re getting the same class,” DeCenzo said.
He noted that those are the things CCU is hearing, but final decisions and stipulations are all still up in the air.
DeCenzo told the commission he had a long conversation with the president of the Sun Belt Conference, but the NCAA is doing little to provide guidance.
“We anticipate we will play fall sports," he said. "We’re hoping that we start them on time, but the belief is that we probably will be playing to empty stadiums because social distancing will be required."
He said they are going to have to test every athlete before they play a game.
The athletes would test on Monday, get results by Wednesday, and depending on those results, possibly have to decide what happens if there are positives.
“If one lineman tests positive, we’ll have to quarantine all individuals they’ve been in contact with,” DeCenzo said. “You can’t play football without your linemen. Potentially on a Wednesday [we could find out] we don’t have enough players because of quarantine. The uncertainty is killing all of us. We can’t plan for it.”
He said no one is giving any direction on what to do other than if there is a positive test, they must quarantine the individuals.
He mentioned the recent importance given to contact tracing to find out who the positive COVID-19 individual has come in contact with, and how that could spiral into more quarantining.
“You can imagine again, if you get a football player who tests positive who has been at practice, you could conceivably have the entire team quarantined," he said. "If they live on campus, then all students in a residence hall could be quarantined. We have to prepare to quarantine and isolate if somebody starts getting sick."
Season ticket renewals are already on sale for the fall, which one commission member questioned.
“We have to sell them, but if it comes down to we can’t have [people] in the stands, we’ll have to refund everybody their money," DeCenzo said. "We just do not know what’s going to happen."
He also mentioned that visiting teams will likely not be allowed to bring cheerleaders or bands, and attendance could even possibly be limited to close family members of players.
“Those [options] are all on the table," he said. "We are selling tickets, but if the decision is made that we can’t have fans, then obviously we will have to refund those monies."
In May, CCU Athletics Director Matt Hogue told the school’s trustees that the NCAA will have a “very good, detailed plan.” but he said getting the athletes back in early for workouts would be important.
“You have to be able to have a run of preparation … athletes are coming out of a cold state since March," he said. "We’ll need a little extra time to get them ready with strength and conditioning, and monitoring their health."
According to CCU officials, the Board of Trustees plan a virtual meeting Friday at 10 a.m.