“It is what it is.”
A wood carving of that expression appears on a shelf in Jamie Pollard’s office.
To some, those words amount to a cliche.
For Iowa State’s Director of Athletics — who stresses honesty and transparency in everything he does — it’s an aphorism of sorts; a way of conveying that however trying, or rewarding, any given situation may be, one’s response to it must be firmly rooted in reality.
No nonsense. No window dressing. Just the facts.
Case in point: Pollard’s proactive approach to a projected $5 million shortfall stemming from college sporting events canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and the potential impacts, in terms of both physical and financial health, that are certain to come.
“We made, you know, a pretty bold and strong move about the future and to be able to do what we did with our coaches and our staff and also to be able to do what we did for our fans,” Pollard said during a one-hour conference call on Thursday that centered on his decision to institute pay cuts for coaches and administrators, among other things, in an effort to offset that $5 million dent to the budget. “I’ve had many people over the last several hours say to me, ‘Well, why did you do that? We can ride this out.’ I would contest a lot of those people are still in denial, much like they were in denial about the (canceled NCAA) basketball tournament. Much like many people were in denial three weeks ago about social distancing and where we find ourselves today. So I say that because history will ultimately judge our impact and our decision yesterday, but I’m going to contest that sometimes in the near future, there’ll be other people doing what we did yesterday and that will look back on this decision and say it really wasn’t that big of a decision, although maybe it feel like a big one today.”
About that decision …
Pollard announced Wednesday night in a letter to ISU fans that: (1) the athletics department will institute a one-year, temporary pay reduction for coaches and some staff that will reduce payroll by more than $3 million; (2) a one-year temporary suspension of bonuses and incentives for all coaches that will save the department $1 million; (3) delay from January 2021 to January 2022 an announced increase in Cyclone Club annual donation levels that will save donors about $2.5 million; (4) a freeze on individual and season game ticket prices for all sports; (5) a deadline extension for Cyclone Club donations and football season ticket renewals to May 29, 2020; (6) outlines the adoption of multiple payment methods for season tickets and donations, including monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual payment plans.
Pollard said the decision didn’t come easy, but it was a necessary step. He also said just three weeks ago almost everyone considered the cancelation of the 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament unthinkable, but here we are.
“It is what it is.”
“When I think of how we got to this spot, I go back to the letter we sent to our fans several weeks ago that (sketched out) priorities,” Pollard said. “We had five priorities: The health and safety and well-being of our student-athletes, staff and coaches. To be aligned with the university. To create structure, motivation, discipline and accountability for our student-athletes, our coaches, our staff and our families. To be focused on where the puck’s going, not where it is. To really create solutions that are preparing us for the future, not tomorrow — and most importantly, to stay connected with one another and our community. So when I think about the financial challenges that we know about and can anticipate, it gets pretty daunting.”
Pollard said Iowa State was one “of a few schools” that initially supported extending eligibility for one more year for student-athletes deprived of a spring season. That, he added, affects 27 Cyclones and adds up to $675,000 in additional scholarship costs.
But, Pollard said, it’s the right thing to do.
He shared stories about the severe struggles Windstar Lines, which is the Cyclones’ flagship bus carrier, and other businesses are facing in these uncertain “social-distant” times.
He commended ISU President Wendy Wintersteen for her leadership and expressed gratitude to coaches and staff willing to absorb what he said amounted to roughly 10 percent reductions in their annual respective salaries.
Most importantly, he stressed how we’re all in this together — and tough times call for difficult decision designed to serve the common good and prevent worst-case scenarios from occurring.
“There’s a lot of tragedy going on around us and that’s sad and can be depressing, but I know what I worry about is what I can control,” Pollard said. “And what I can control is what happens with the people I’m responsible for. And I’m proud to be an Iowa Stater. I’m proud to work with people who, you know, came together in a short period of time to say, ‘Let’s do this because it’s the right thing to do and we’ll be focused on the long-term approach.’ Because if we do this now, we can stop worrying about a million, zillion little cuts and be focused on those priorities.”
Pollard said he and his department staff will continue to adjust to ongoing issues that will inevitably pop up. He added that the question many are keenly focused on — will there be a football season? — is an important one and administrators across the country are determined to maintain hope that there will be.
“Tim Day, our faculty athletics rep, gave me a great analogy and he said, ‘What we’re facing right now is one of three things,” Pollard said. “It’s either a winter blizzard that we hunker down for the weekend. It’s the Farmer’s Almanac predicting that we’re going to have a really hard winter, or we’re facing an Ice Age.’ And I think we’ve al figured out that this is bigger than a blizzard that we’re shut down for the weekend. We’re probably in a phase right now that we’re in a long, hard winter. But if we can’t play football this fall this fall? It’s Ice Age time. Because there is nobody in our industry right now that could reasonably forecast a contingency plan, or how they would get through, not playing any football games.”
Pollard said discussions about how to salvage the season have begun.
One option being floated: Starting in October and playing only conference games.
Another: Playing the season next spring.
“There’s vast modeling ways and there’ll be much smarter people than me that’ll be trying to figure that out,” Pollard said.
In essence, “it is what it is.”
And Pollard’s intent on making the best of “it” — and preventing an “Ice Age” at all costs.
“The best analogy I could give you is this: I’m a long distance runner and I used this with our coaches and staff,” Pollard said. “I said, ‘You know, if you’re running a marathon, everybody’s excited the first couple of miles. And a lot of people can gut it out over the past couple miles. But who can run from mile 10 to 22 most efficient, most mentally strong. The most cognizant of keeping enough reserve in the tank to get to the finish line, but to push themselves enough to get their time. That’s where we’re kind of moving right now.”