The University of Wisconsin System estimates COVID-19 has cost campuses a net $318 million loss from last March through the end of 2020.
Never has a financial landscape like the one currently facing the System made a better case for giving campuses the authority to borrow, officials told the UW Board of Regents at a Thursday meeting, just days before the 2021-23 state budget process begins when Gov. Tony Evers unveils his proposal Feb. 16.
The System is unique in lacking borrowing ability, a constraint that is particularly challenging because of the short-term cash-flow problems the pandemic created.
UW-Madison sustained more than half of the System’s net losses, $176.5 million, since the pandemic hit last spring.
Its auxiliary units, or entities that normally are self-supporting and provide goods or services on campus, such as athletics, conference centers, housing, dining and parking, saw the biggest revenue losses. UW-Madison also returned $51 million of its budgeted funding back to the state.
COVID-19 has caused the “biggest financial disaster” the university has ever seen, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said.
Through federal stimulus money, furloughs, pay cuts for leadership, travel restrictions and targeted budget cuts to different units, Blank said she’s optimistic the financial gap can be resolved over the next two years. But she also renewed her case for giving the university borrowing authority.
“This is a financial tool available to every one of our peer schools, every other system, every other flagship university in 49 other states,” Blank told the board. “When you have a short-term cash-flow emergency of the sort that we have had, what do you do when you’re a $3.4 billion organization that’s UW-Madison, much less a more than $6 billion organization for the System? You spread the current cash-flow problem against future good years with borrowing.”
Interim System President Tommy Thompson said that in his conversations at the Capitol he’s come across people who are “adamantly opposed” to giving the System borrowing authority while others are “willing to make a deal.”
Evers isn’t “totally sold yet” on bonding, Thompson said, and he doesn’t know if the governor would include it in his budget proposal. But Thompson also said he was “fairly certain” Evers would sign for the measure if the System could get it into the budget that comes across the governor’s desk for approval.
Spokespeople for Evers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, did not respond to questions of whether they supported giving the System borrowing authority.
The arguments Thompson said he’s heard from lawmakers opposed to such borrowing authority are that it’s not needed or due to a lack of trust.
“It’s just archaic, it’s wrong and I’m doing everything I possibly can to talk to legislators to convince them we need that opportunity in order to run this huge institution,” Thompson said, adding he’s hopeful he can get it done.
Blank has unsuccessfully pushed for borrowing authority since she started her job in 2013. If the pandemic doesn’t illustrate the need for the state flagship university to have this tool at its disposal, she said she didn’t know what would.
For example, the UW Athletics Department took a roughly $45 million hit, but is poised to bounce back post-pandemic. Every other Big Ten athletics program borrowed from their university to get through this time.
“We instead are using chicken wire and masking tape to try to figure out ways through our reserves to make loans and to try and get them through this time,” Blank said. “It’s just a crazy way to operate. We need modern financial tools at this university.”
Breaking down the Wisconsin Badgers 2021 recruiting class by position
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Deacon Hill (Santa Barbara, Calif.)
Quick analysis: Hill has a strong arm and shown enough in camps to rise to a four-star recruit on Rivals. Competition level is a question mark at the high school level, but he’s got the tools to be a good college quarterback.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Hill: Quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayr “identified him really early. We thought he had great arm strength when you compared him to the best players in the country who were out there. We thought he was right there from the jump. … We really liked him, we felt personality-wise the people that surrounded him and supported him, how he worked, all those things were a great fit for us.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: Jackson Acker (Madison), Loyal Crawford (Eau Claire), Antwan Roberts (Nashville, Tenn.)
Quick analysis: There’s been talk about Acker switching positions at the college level, but UW listed him as a running back Wednesday. Acker didn’t play in the fall due to COVID-19, but he has shown a good mix of speed and power as a ball carrier. … Crawford has a James White-level ceiling as a third-down back and the most shiftiness of the bunch. … Roberts has explosion and proven ability to run through tackles.
Rudolph’s thoughts on the group: “I think they’re all kind of unique. Jackson’s a guy that obviously would have position flexibility, but he kind of is explosive. … Then you see Loyal, and Loyal’s got great speed, great change of direction, a chance for a home run hitter. I think he’s got great quicks in and out and, again, I think all these guys, we’ll find out exactly where they’re at when they come in, but I think guys that are just really good football players as well. … Antwan, what he does to this point, complete back and had a great senior year.”
Number of players: 2
Who are they: Skyler Bell (Bronx, N.Y.), Markus Allen (Clayton, Ohio)
Quick analysis: The Badgers landed two players who possess good speed and agility at arguably the biggest position of need in the class. … Bell has a suddenness to his cuts that makes him dangerous as a receiver and returner. … Allen shows good ball skills when making contested catches and great body control.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Bell, who wasn’t able to visit campus before committing: “I just think you take the time to reach out. Whether it was Zoom meetings with him and his family, or whether it was phone calls, you took the time to be able to answer questions that pop up in their minds. I think those things are always huge.”
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Jack Pugh (Columbus, Ohio)
Quick analysis: He has long strides that help him cover a lot of ground and he’s shown an array of route-running skills from both an on-line and split-out positions.
Rudolph’s thoughts on Pugh: “Jack played his first year of football last year. This was his second year. Really a guy that was a hoop player that jumped into it. Watching his film, I thought he was really physical for a guy that hadn’t played football. He was physical at D-end as well as tight end. I think he’s got the ability to separate. I think he’s got really a lot of speed and explosiveness.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: JP Benzschawel (Grafton), Riley Mahlman (Lakeville, Minn.), Nolan Rucci (Lititz, Pa.)
Quick analysis: The Badgers are set up to continue churning out great O-lines for years to come after an impressive haul of linemen in 2019. … Benzschawel is the third of his brothers to come to UW, and he’s shown great power and strength as a blocker. … Mahlman might be the most athletic of the bunch, having played tight end for a time in high school and as a basketball standout. … Rucci, the lone five-star recruit in the class, has all the tools to become an All-American tackle.
Rudolph’s thoughts on the group: “I think they’re big, athletic guys that you have to have as defenses are pretty darn athletic and being able to keep up with them. … I think those guys match in their work ethic and their mind-set, I think they’ll make a major impact here.”
Number of players: 1
Who are they: Mike Jarvis (Medford, N.J.)
Quick analysis: Jarvis was recruited as both an offensive and defensive lineman, but UW will look to make him a defensive end. He has good quickness but will need to add weight and strength at the college level.
Leonhard’s thoughts on Jarvis: “He fits what we do, the right mentality. He can get after people. Very physically impressive at the high school level. We’re looking forward to developing his skills as we continue to push what we can ask our defensive line to do. You turn on a tape and you go, ‘Dang, everything we ask our guys to do, he’s putting on tape for you.’”
Number of players: 4
Who are they: Braelon Allen, (Fond du Lac), Jake Chaney (Cape Coral, Fla.), Jake Ratzlaff (Rosemount, Minn.), Bryan Sanborn (Lake Zurich, Ill.)
Quick analysis: UW may need these players as soon as next year depending on what junior Jack Sanborn and senior Mike Maskalunas decide to do this offseason. … Allen is a physical freak, showing off-the-charts strength and love for making big hits. After playing safety in high school, moving to linebacker could allow him to be around the ball often. … Chaney posted back-to-back 100-tackle seasons as a junior and senior and has a nose for attacking the ball and creating fumbles. … Ratzlaff is another wild card. He has the speed and athleticism to play at any linebacker spot and turned down a hockey scholarship to Minnesota to play football. … Bryan Sanborn has good closing speed and often was used as a blitzer in high school.
Leonhard’s thoughts on Ratzlaff: “We’re excited for him because as talented as he is, he really has not focused solely on football. So we still feel like there’s a ton of growth in his game and coming from a very, very high, high level of play already.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: Ayo Adebogun (Mequon), TJ Bollers (Tiffin, Iowa), Darryl Peterson (Akron, Ohio)
Quick analysis: This group rivals the O-line as the deepest, most talented chunk of the class, but don’t be surprised if one or more of these players ends up being listed at another position in the future. … Adebogun, a lineman in high school, has a tremendous first step. … Bollers has the size to potentially play on the line, but the quickness and block-shedding of an outside backer. … Peterson was a prolific pass rusher in high school and could help UW soon.
Leonhard’s thoughts on Bollers: “We love his versatility. (We) see him as an outside linebacker, kind of plus. We think he can do a little bit more than that position and provide some flexibility for us. Great physicality with what he shown in high school. As he grows into his body, it’s going to be a lot of fun to put him in different positions.”
Number of players: 3
Who are they: Al Ashford III (Denver, Colo.), Ricardo Hallman (Miami, Fla.), Hunter Wohler (Muskego)
Quick analysis: Ashford already plays with the aggressive style that Leonhard loves and he’s borderline obsessive about learning and refining technique. … Hallman is a true ball hawk and uses his athleticism to close on balls in the air faster than opposing receivers. … Wohler, Wisconsin’s two-time AP state player of the year, is a special blend of ball skills and physicality as a safety.
Leonhard’s thoughts on Wohler: “Probably as highly recruited of a skill player in the state in a long time. Extremely talented. What he does at the safety position in impacting games at that level was a lot of fun to watch.”