Football: Pat Fitzgerald opens up on Northwestern football’s financial situation and returning to play


Daily file photo by Noah Frick-Alofs

Pat Fitzgerald. The head coach of Northwestern football said the Wildcats’ limited practice opportunities are key for helping NU prepare for their season opener against Maryland on Oct. 24.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter


Even though Pat Fitzgerald was optimistic about the prospect of playing football in September, Northwestern’s head coach said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant financial impact on the football program and the athletic department.

On May 11, Northwestern forecasted a $90 million budget shortfall due to the coronavirus. As a result, the University instituted pay reductions for some administrators and furloughed 250 staff members.

In response to the school’s financial challenges, Fitzgerald said the football program cannot currently hire additional staff and has frozen its budget.

“Right now, we’ve operated in a space with very little expenditures,” Fitzgerald said in a Zoom press conference Tuesday. “We’re trying to be great stewards of the University. It’s been a challenging time for everybody.”

Led by Fitzgerald, Northwestern football is operating its offseason remotely, with frequent Zoom calls focused on installing a new offensive scheme and readying the players to return to campus, whenever that takes place.

Northwestern doesn’t have a set date for its players to return to Ryan Fieldhouse for practice, even though several other Big Ten programs do.

Illinois football players can return to campus for workouts beginning June 3. Ohio State’s players are reportedly set to be in Columbus on June 8. At Nebraska, they can return as early as June 1.

Fitzgerald hopes to have voluntary workouts sometime in June, but said he’s uncertain what will happen after that.

“We don’t yet know where we’ll be in July, so I can’t really comment on that,” Fitzgerald said. “But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this COVID experience, it’s that hypothetical conversations are a hypothetical waste of time.”

On May 4, the Big Ten extended the suspension of team activities through June 1. If that restriction is lifted at the end of the month, Northwestern would be able to have workouts in June, followed by the team’s regular scheduled training camp.

In that scenario, Fitzgerald said Northwestern would be prepared for its season opener at Michigan State on September 5.

“If we are able to get back going across the country in July, we already have a training camp model in place,” Fitzgerald said. “We could get our normal training camp in July and go play ball.”

Fizgerald joked that because he’s “just the head coach,” he won’t have much say in Northwestern’s plan for the college football season. Because he expects conference commissioners, University administrators and medical professionals to be the decision makers, Fitzgerald has been reluctant to share much information with his players.

Most of Fitzgerald’s meetings with other Big Ten representatives begin with medical updates, which have driven most of the conference’s decision making. With the players expected to return to campus in June, Fitzgerald said the next step is deciding a procedure for training camp in July, and he said he expects to learn when training camp can happen in the next few weeks.

“At a certain point, you’re going to have to raise your hand and say ‘I’m in,’” Fitzgerald said. “And that will probably have to happen school by school and conference by conference.”

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Twitter: @2021_charlie

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