When I recently set out to learn more about high school athletic funding and how COVID-19 might affect prep sports moving forward, one person I checked in with was South Kitsap boys basketball coach Brian Cox. 

Since I’m not totally wise in the world of money and finances, I figured Cox could provide valuable assistance. He’s a partner at Pacific Asset Management in Gig Harbor and serves as an investment advisor. 

“I deal with folks’ money every day. We manage their retirement assets,” Cox said. “It’s kind of all about making adjustments.” 

That’s really a keyword here: adjustments. We’ve all been making them since the pandemic started. Adjusting how we work, how our kids learn, how we shop, how we play, how we socialize. Little about our lives feels normal and it’s likely to continue that way for a while.

Looking at the 2020-21 school year, adjustments have already been made to the sports schedule. Pretty much everything in our neck of the woods is pushed back until the calendar hits January. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is hoping schools can fit all sports into a condensed winter/spring schedule, but the reality is there’s a chance some sports won’t be played at all. 

Since 2020 seems to be the year endless bad news, let’s look at the worst-case scenario: what if all sports for 2020-21 are canceled? No games, no athletes, no fans, nothing. How does that affect the ability of high school athletic departments to operate? 

“Whenever there are issues with money, you get forced to be creative,” South Kitsap athletic director Eric Canton said. “You have to triage: what’s a priority and what’s not.” 

First off, let’s look at how high school sports are traditionally funded.

“You’ve got a few pots of money,” said Central Kitsap School District director of athletics Steve Coons. 

The biggest pot comes directly from school districts through levy funding. When voters in communities pass school levies, high school athletics receives a piece of that pie. Expenses such as coaching stipends, transportation, officials, facility rental and some equipment costs are typically covered by these funds. Participation fees that athletes pay also help offset transportation costs.

Another substantial source of money is the Associated Student Body (ASB) fund each high school operates to help support various extra-curricular activities. Students who purchase ASB cards gain entry into school events (games, concerts, etc.) and receive other benefits and discounts. A portion of the ASB fund goes toward athletic operations. Money generated from gate receipts at games also goes toward the ASB.

Since school enrollments, ASB card purchases and ticket sales vary from school to school, ASB funding also varies from school to school.

A third, smaller pot of funding comes in the form of booster programs and fundraising and donations. Not every school has sports boosters. Fundraisers handled by individual teams are more common. There are rules concerning how these funds may be used.

If there are no sporting events in 2020-21, ASB funding would obviously take the biggest hit. No games and no gate receipts mean no ASB revenue, which helps cover the cost of new uniforms, some equipment, event management and transportation to certain events. 

Schools like North Kitsap, which have enjoyed tremendous fan support at football and basketball games in recent years, could be hit hard if ASB revenue dries up, but every school in Kitsap and across the state would be impacted.

No, I don’t think we’re in danger of teams not being able to dress in uniforms or have proper equipment, but it might be a case of having to figure out essential “needs” and not “wants” moving forward.

“We will have to find revenue or resources elsewhere that we don’t have now,” Olympic High athletic director Nate Andrews said.

Coons said if there is a significant loss of ASB revenue, it would compel Central Kitsap School District to act. It’s not too early to start tightening belts, budgeting with caution and planning for the worst while hoping for the best.

“We want all the possible opportunities for all kids,” Coons said. “We will make it work.”

Here are some other bits of funding-related items to chew on:

•Most school districts in West Sound ended up honoring coaching stipends last spring after COVID-19 cut seasons short in mid-March. It doesn’t sound like that will be the case if sports are outright canceled in 2020-21. Payments to coaches would only be triggered if teams actually start a season. 

•Don’t be surprised if high school teams do far less traveling to out-of-town tournaments, holiday events and invitationals in coming seasons as transportation expenses have been in issue in certain school districts, even before COVID-19 hit. With the WIAA stressing league play for 2020-21, keeping teams from racking up the miles is one way to save money.

•With sports potentially limited, you might see some athletic personnel tasked with helping out in other roles, such as teaching and administrative support. Coons said he’ll be acting as director of CKSD’s virtual academy this fall. 

Jeff Graham covers high school sports for the Kitsap Sun. Reach him at [email protected].