Director of rugby Chris Stirling said the squad had questioned the regime’s ability to lead during a crisis meeting last week with concerns new contracts had still yet to be offered for 2019-20.
After eight years in the Championship, Carnegie hoped to find new investment and make a push for the Premiership next term.
However, players were told at the meeting the budget could instead be reduced by as much as £1m with promotion ambitions deferred due to concerns about future funding.
“(Chairman) David Dockray has done a remarkable job to raise £5m over the past five years to fund the promotion ambition and each of the board members have made their own contribution,” said Hetherington who, with former chairman and benefactor Paul Caddick, transferred the club’s ownership at no cost and with no debt to a new group, led by Dockray in 2014.
“The board have never had any role to play in the rugby operation; they have simply provided the finances and left those in charge of rugby to get on with it.
“For the first four years, Sir Ian McGeechan had ownership, including the RFU Academy, and this season director of rugby Chris Stirling has taken on the responsibilities. Whilst the team has come close to winning promotion on two occasions, we have fallen short of our ambition.”
Hetherington said the rugby department had been given a budget of £2.3m for this season, “significantly more than any other Championship Club, except London Irish and Ealing”, but that could be cut to £1.3m next term, in line with most second-tier clubs. He said: “The shareholders are unable to maintain their current level of funding and this news was delivered to the players and staff at last week’s meeting. This is, of course, very unfortunate and everyone will be affected but the board were honest, transparent and have delivered the news as early as possible.”
Carnegie’s woeful start to the season – some significant squad strengthening did not occur until November – saw them bottom and in a relegation fight but they have won 11 of their last 14 games, including Sunday’s stunning victory over leaders London Irish.
Carnegie do have world-class facilities at Emerald Headingley, a quality training complex and an Academy now acclaimed as Gold Standard by the RFU that serves both the club and the county.
But, with average crowds of just 1,505 this term, Hetherington added: “At the end of the day, the level of interest and support in the club will determine the future, and this applies to all professional sports clubs. Yorkshire Carnegie need more fans, more sponsors and corporate members and now, more investors to support the outstanding contribution made by the current ones.
“The clock is ticking. We have three games at Emerald Headingley this season and fans around the county can show how much they care by turning up.
“The same with businesses and sponsors. With regards to new investors, if there is anyone in the county who believes they can add value and make a difference, then now is the time to come forward.”
In the meantime, uncertain players are leaving; Doncaster Knights yesterday announced they have secured prop Andrew Foster on a two-year deal from this summer, lock Matt Smith also heads to Castle Park, Bedford Blues have signed No 8 Dan Temm and full-back Chris Elder will soon quit full-time rugby to take up a job in The City.