A possible eight-figure budget deficit and an overhauled football schedule are the latest challenges facing West Virginia University’s athletic department in a year that already has been full of adversity.
Included in the nearly half-hour interview on WVU’s official athletics website, Athletic Director Shane Lyons discussed, among other topics, a budget deficit that could stretch to $18 million, significant changes to a football schedule that could be released as early as Friday and just how many fans could be allowed into Milan Puskar Stadium to watch games.
Lyons said the financial prospects for the athletic department in 2020 already are looking bleak, and that was made even worse when football games against Florida State in Atlanta and at home against Maryland were canceled because of COVID-19.
“Looking into the fiscal year  budget, it’s not looking very good,” Lyons said. “Right now, it’s about fans and ticket sales and what that looks like, and there are no clear answers yet. But using the numbers we have starting out, it’s right now at least a $12-million-in-the-hole red.
“Given what happened earlier this week, losing two additional football games, it’s probably another $5 [million] or $6 million in the red, so you’re looking right now at $18 million, and that’s playing all 10 football games, playing all the basketball games and making sure we get through championships.
“Our number could continue to climb. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but that’s where we’re going to need help as a department from the [Mountaineer Athletic Club] office and donations from fans to keep this train moving forward.”
On Monday, the Big 12 Conference announced a plus-one model, meaning all 10 members will play nine league games and one nonconference contest this season. Lyons confirmed that WVU will honor its Sept. 12 home date with Eastern Kentucky.
No official league schedule has been released by the Big 12 as of yet, although Lyons said to expect major changes from the teams’ original slates.
“The schedule we have now will look completely different by the end of the week,” Lyons said. “The whole premise of the schedule is to get as many bye weeks with the understanding that different teams are going to have to play on different weekends. What they’re going to try to do, from a scheduling standpoint, is put teams into different pods so, if a game is postponed or canceled that, that upcoming bye week, that game could be played because both teams would be available.”
In creating several open dates, as well as moving the Big 12 championship game back, the hope is that games that are potentially postponed because of coronavirus concerns would have plenty of time to be made up. The conference announced earlier that the Big 12 title game could be moved from Dec. 5 to Dec. 12 or 19.
“What we’re trying to do is build in as many bye weeks as possible,” Lyons said. “So, really, the schedule you have right now isn’t going to work that way.”
As for how many fans will be permitted to attend games, Lyons said a concrete decision should come in the next week. Lyons estimated that crowds likely would be limited to somewhere between 20% and 30% of capacity at Puskar Stadium.
“I think what you’re seeing now is it being cut down to 20% to 30%, and that would allow us to social distance in two, four or six individuals and spread throughout the stadium,” Lyons said. “That’s some of the plans we’re working on, depending on what happens.
“Hopefully, in the coming days — within the next week or two — we’ll have a better understanding of what that’s going to look like.”
Lyons also confirmed that players choosing to opt out of the 2020 season will have their scholarships honored, a stance he said all 10 Big 12 members are taking. An official decision from the NCAA, in terms of eligibility for those players, has not been made.
Sophomore safety Kerry Martin Jr., a former standout at Capital High School, announced Wednesday that he will sit out the 2020 season because of family and health concerns.