North Texas athletic director Wren Baker has a poster hanging behind his desk commemorating what is fondly remembered at the school as “The Drive.”
Former UNT quarterback Mason Fine guided the Mean Green 98 yards in 67 seconds for the game-winning touchdown in a 29-26 win over UTSA in 2017. The perseverance UNT showed in the face of long odds that night has motivated Baker as he guides the school’s athletic program through the shutdown in college athletics due to the spread of the coronavirus.
“Mason said after that game that if we have time on the clock and downs, we have a chance to come back,” Baker said. “I have thought about that comment a lot. We are going to be positive and get through this.”
Baker’s optimism was evident during a Friday teleconference when he provided an update on how UNT is navigating the challenges the shutdown presents.
UNT has trimmed a host of expenses and is close to balancing its $39 million budget for the fiscal year that ends on Aug. 31, despite a $2.3 million shortfall.
UNT has asked its coaches to eliminate nonconference games that would require flights. The school has also put a two-year moratorium on what Baker referred to as experience trips.
The school’s tennis team played matches in Hawaii this season, while its men’s basketball team took a trip to Italy in the summer of 2018.
Several programs across the country have trimmed their budgets by cutting salaries of highly compensated coaches or reducing salaries across the board. Baker said that while his coaches have said they are willing to do whatever it takes to get UNT through the crisis, reducing salaries and laying off staff are moves he will try to avoid.
Baker acknowledged that could change, depending on the upcoming football season. UNT would take a $5 million hit if the football season is called off.
The importance of football to athletic departments across the country is the reason Baker believes the season will be played. He expects a decision on the status of the season to come by the end of June.
UNT would be forced to make more severe cuts if the football season is called off.
“I lean toward we will play a full season that will be delayed,” Baker said. “The whole revenue model is built on a full slate of games.”
While football is the focus, there are a host of other issues UNT has been forced to navigate. The NCAA granted seniors in spring sports additional eligibility.
Baker said UNT will allow most of the athletes who want a second chance at their senior seasons to return. The move could cost UNT up to $400,000 but will likely be substantially less.
UNT is working through other issues as well, including rolling out online visual tours of the school’s campus. Those tours could help UNT recruit the next generation of players like Fine.
“We have made a lot of progress the last few years,” Baker said. “We are committed to doing everything we can to not diminish our momentum and to come out of this prepared to continue our growth.”