By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
SOUTH BEND -- As Notre Dame's athletic director weighed the future of football coach Charlie Weis, the university's president sent a message to faculty, students and staff telling them the school is being affected by hard economic times and must take steps to save money.
"I ask our academic and administrative leaders to do more with existing resources in order to reduce expenditures," the Rev. John Jenkins wrote on Monday. "We need to identify and implement all reasonable operating efficiencies. I have also asked our budget office to develop contingency plans in the event that economic conditions worsen."
The message e-mailed to students and university students comes amid media reports in the past week that it would cost the university anywhere from $4.5 million to more than $20 million to buy out the final seven years Weis has left on the 10-year contract he signed midway through his first season as coach.
Weis has come under fire in recent weeks as the Irish (6-6) lost five of their final seven games this season. One of the losses was to Syracuse (3-9), the first time Notre Dame had lost to a team that finished a season with more than seven losses. They also lost 38-3 Saturday to archrival USC, the second-worst loss for the Irish in that series. The worst was last year's 38-0 loss.
Overall, the Irish are 9-15 over the past two seasons. That was two losses more than the previous record for defeats in a two-year span.
Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said after the USC loss that Weis' job would be evaluated, just as any other Notre Dame coach's job is evaluated after a season is over. Asked whether money would play a factor in whether Weis would stay, Swarbrick replied: "We make our decisions based on the best interests of the students."
He elaborated further in an e-mail Monday when he was asked whether Jenkins' message could be a factor in deciding whether Weis will return.
"Financial performance is part of standard review process for any of our programs. I don't see anything about Father's message that would cause me to alter that process," he said.
Ronald G. Ehrenberg, director of Cornell University's Higher Education Research Institute, said the university has to consider what else could be done with money not spent on a buyout.
"Also, there would be questions about to what extent would alumni donations to the athletics department be helped or hindered by the dismissal of the coach. I don't know the answer to that. But I assume this is what the university is thinking about, among other things," Ehrenberg said.
Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University, said the buyout might be the only thing saving Weis.
"Every school, even the wealthiest of schools, have a salary cap or a budget limit because at some point you have to make improvements on your facilities, at some point you have to make improvements on your stadia, at some point you have to make improvements in your offices and this all comes in a bad economic time because I have to assume alumni gifts are going to be off a little," he said.
Brown said the message from Jenkins had been in the works for several weeks and was similar to message other universities had sent to campus communities.
Jenkins wrote that the university's endowment has been hit by the economic downturn, although he said not as severely as the average experienced by other universities. He also said the university cannot guarantee there won't be any changes to its work force, although it doesn't expect any such changes.
He said deans are being asked to identify potential savings and the school was seeking other ways to cut costs so the school can focus on its "strategic priorities."
"In these and other ways, we can together increase efficiency, minimize extraneous spending, and prepare Notre Dame for yet unforeseen developments," he wrote.