The future of college football remains unclear as athletic leaders near the deadline to decide whether or not there will be a fall season and what it will look like. As of now, some games are already scheduled for Aug. 29.
An Atlantic Coast Conference schedule model — including the proposed starting and league championship game dates — is set to be announced this week, Sports Illustrated reported. The Big 10 and Pac-12 have already announced that their respective seasons will be conference-only if there is a football season, and the Ivy League has canceled all fall sports due to the pandemic. The effects of these decisions go beyond the players and coaches, as they have major financial repercussions as well. The cancellation of March Madness has already led to a huge monetary loss for the NCAA, and there could be even more losses if the college football season is canceled, too.
It remains to be seen if games will be played without crowds, if the season will be pushed to the spring or if the season will be canceled outright. These are some of the possible repercussions if the cancellation of the whole season comes into play.
The NCAA Is Already Distributing $375 Million Less to Its Members Than It Had Planned
The NCAA initially planned to distribute $600 million to its Division I members in June, but in late March, it announced that it would only be giving out $225 million, Yahoo Sports reported. That comes due to the loss of profits from winter and spring championships — a loss of college football profits could mean even less NCAA funding going forward.
Many Other College Sports Are Financially Dependent on Football
With the exception of men’s basketball, most college sports teams operate at a deficit, Yahoo Sports reported. That deficit is usually offset by profits brought in by the school’s football team through ticket sales, media and television rights, and post-season contracts. That means the cancellation of football can have a trickle-down effect that hampers other sports.
Pictured: Kathryn Morrissey, executive director of College World Series Inc., with empty TD Ameritrade Park due to the coronavirus cancellation or postponement.
$4.1 Billion in Revenue Is At Stake
According to a USA Today analysis, the loss of revenue from a canceled college football season stands to be “at least $4.1 billion” for the fiscal year — and that’s only for the 50-plus public schools in the Power Five conferences. That averages to a loss of $78 million in revenue for each school’s athletic department.
Much of That Loss Would Be From Lost Ticket Sales
Power Five public schools reported about $1 billion in football ticket revenue last season. According to USA Today, in fiscal 2019, 19 schools reported football ticket revenue of at least $20 million, including 11 at more than $30 million. Of course, some tickets have already been sold for the coming season, but some fans will surely be asking for refunds if the season is canceled.
Media Revenue Losses Could Total $1.2 Billion
Schools make a good chunk of money from conference TV deals. According to USA Today, media revenue totaled roughly $1.2 billion for the previous college football season. As the paper noted, however, if there are no games to show, there is no media revenue to be made.
Sponsorship Losses Could Total an Additional $300 Million
Outside of media revenue, college football teams earn cash through advertising, sponsorship and royalty revenue — though sometimes the deals are intertwined. Revenue from sponsorships totaled over $300 million for Power Five schools last football season, USA Today reported. With no games, no players and no crowds to be influenced, these deals — and the money behind them — would likely go away.
It Could Lead To a Loss of Money From Donations
In addition to conference distribution and ticket sales, donations are the other major revenue stream for college football teams, Sports Illustrated reported. According to the site, donations are responsible for about 25% of revenue at most Power Five schools, but at some universities, that percentage is even higher. At A&M, for example, donations account for more than 40% of the football team’s revenue. The coronavirus-related shutdowns have already led to a drop off in donations, and a canceled football season could mean further drops.
It Could Also Hurt the Economy of College Towns
College football brings fans — and consumer spending — to areas that rely on college students and sports fans for revenue. According to USA Today, canceling a college football season could mean a loss of “billions more” for these college towns.
Even Though Athletic Departments Would Save Money on Operating Costs, There Would Still Be a Net Loss
It takes a lot of money to have a successful college football season. Costs include staging games, paying guarantees, travel, meals and snacks, equipment, medical services and bonuses for coaches. Those expenses add up to about $520 million, USA Today reported. Although schools would save by not having these expenses, the net outcome would still amount to a loss of more than $3.3 billion, the newspaper reported.
Athletic Directors and Department Heads Are Already Taking Pay Cuts
In anticipation of major losses from a delayed or canceled football season, some athletic directors and other high-ranking department leaders are already taking pay cuts. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has cut his own pay by 20%, and the Pac-12 executive staff is cutting 10% from its salaries, Sports Illustrated reported. NCAA leaders also announced a 20% cut in pay. There have been layoffs as well, with the Pac-12 Network letting go of 8% of its workforce.
If There Is a Season, There Could Be Fewer Games and Less Travel
Travel costs are a major expense — the average price to fly a football team in a charter plane is about $120,000 — so athletic directors have discussed reducing games that would require travel, with the exception of conference games, Sports Illustrated reported.
Sources within the ACC told Sports Illustrated that the customary Atlantic and Coastal divisional formats are likely to be replaced by more regional scheduling to reduce travel expenses and limit potential exposure to the coronavirus. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already made decisions to cancel nonconference play.
Schools Might Have To Rely On Government Funds or Private Loans
Without revenue from football, athletic departments could be left scrambling to find ways to keep their programs going. UCF athletic director Danny White told Sports Illustrated that he might have to ask for federal or state government support to help his department balance the 2021 budget. White said that his only other option would be to take out a long-term loan.
“As I sit right now, I don’t see a feasible option,” he told Sports Illustrated.
Non-Revenue-Producing Sports Programs Would Likely Be Scaled Back or Cut
“If football and basketball decline, you could see a number of schools scale back athletic programs altogether,” Texas A&M president Michael Young told Sports Illustrated. “Schools that offer 25 sports, you’ll see some schools begin to put hiatus if not stop the sports that are expensive and not revenue-generating.”
Although this could save money, it would likely lead to a backlash from athletes and alumni of the teams. It could also lead to issues with the NCAA, which requires Division I schools to offer at least 14 sports to receive funding.
Despite the possible negative impacts of cutting some sports, a number of schools have already moved forward with these cuts. For example, Stanford cut 11 varsity sports amid the ongoing financial issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic, ESPN reported.
Cutting Sports Teams Could Also Mean a Reduction in Tuition Fees
Students who are recruited to play non-revenue sports typically only receive partial scholarships, which means the players pay the rest of the tuition fees. If these sports are cut, it could lead to a reduction in tuition dollars for the university, Sports Illustrated reported.
Excess Expenditures Will Be Cut
There are a lot of perks that come along with working for and playing for a top college football team, including luxurious facilities and sky-high salaries. A season of no football could lead to an elimination of both of these perks, college football insiders told Sports Illustrated.
How and When a Football Season Could Start in 2020 Is Still Unclear
Even though college football is played in the fall, postseason drills, spring football, summer conditioning and fall training camp have turned the sport into a year-round commitment.
However, that hasn’t been the case this year. Training programs have been delayed, but some programs — including those for Oklahoma and Kansas — are set to kick off on July 31, Yahoo Sports reported. As for when the actual games will begin, the NCAA has approved a start date of Aug. 29 to allow for more flexibility throughout the season for quarantining and contact tracing as needed. But with the future of college football still up in the air, nothing is set in stone just yet.
The Decision on Whether or Not To Have a Football Season Could Literally Be Life or Death
It’s important to remember that it isn’t just money that hangs in the balance, but also the health and safety of college athletes, coaches and support staff. At Michigan State, 16 athletes and four staff members that returned to campus for training have tested positive for COVID-19, ESPN reported. Rutgers has had 10 football players test positive and Ohio State had an undisclosed number of positive coronavirus tests among their student-athletes.
University of Illinois professor Dr. Sheldon Jacobson told CBS Sports that if college football resumes this fall, he expects a 30% to 50% infection rate of the approximately 13,000 players competing in FBS — and, even more troubling, he projects three to seven deaths among those players due to the coronavirus.
The Last Time a College Football Season Was Disrupted Was 1918
If the college football season is canceled or postponed, it will be the first time the sport wasn’t played as planned since 1918. That year, a combination of World War I and the Spanish flu led to the season being disrupted — but it wasn’t canceled outright. The season was delayed but resumed in November as quarantines were lifted and the war came to an end. However, not all teams participated that year, including West Virginia and the Army and Navy teams, Forbes reported.
Still, many teams did play, with Michigan and Pitt coming out on top. There was also one postseason game, the Tournament East-West, which has gone on to become known as the Rose Bowl.
What Will Happen This Year?
It remains to be seen if and when the college football season will actually start this year. If it does, it will likely look different with a shorter season and less travel. And if it gets canceled outright, sports programs across the country — and the areas that benefit from fan spending — could lose billions. However, it could possibly save lives, so that certainly must be taken into account as that’s something you can’t put a price on.