Schools Could Lose Up To $4 Billion In Revenue if College Football Season Canceled

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  • New study reports that Power Five schools could lose up to $4 billion in revenue if 2020 college football season is called off
  • NCAA canceled all winter and spring sports championships as a result of the coronavirus
  • Schools trying to find ways to allow the season to be played, even if no fans will be allowed

The coronavirus pandemic has already messed the spring and summer sports calendars up in a number of ways. The NBA, MLS and NHL were forced to shut down their respective seasons as the virus spread through the country in the middle of March. Major League Baseball hasn’t even started its season yet, with Opening Day having been slated for March 26. The NFL had to scrap plans to hold its draft in Las Vegas in April, instead opting to conduct it virtually.

The potential ramifications for the NCAA have been even larger. The NCAA was forced to cancel its men’s and women’s basketball championships in March. All spring and winter championships were called off, including baseball’s College World Series.

There are all sorts of fears that canceling the football schedule in the fall may be necessary, as well. That would have catastrophic financial ramifications on the NCAA and its schools, according to a new study conducted by Washington University. That study concluded that canceling the college football schedule in 2020 could cost schools around the country billions of dollars.

Power Five Could Face Massive Losses

The reports, which was commissioned by ESPN, said that schools in the Power Five conferences could lose as much as $4 billion if there is no football. That doesn’t include the amount of money that could be lost by Group of Five conference schools. The Power 5 consists of the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. The Group of Five includes the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and the Sun Belt.

$1.2 billion of the $4 billion estimation comes from lost ticket sales. Each of the Power Five schools would lose an average of $62 million in football revenue, with around $19 million of that coming from lost ticket sales.

Researchers used publicly available information from the 2017 via the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the 2018 Equity in Athletics Database from the US Department of Education. Researchers were able to try and project increases in revenue over the past couple of years to arrive at their 2020 estimates.

In reality, the losses will likely exceed $4 billion, as the estimations didn’t include the likely losses in media revenue, donations, corporate partnership revenue and conference distributions.

In April, a USA Today study estimated similar losses for colleges around the country if college football has to be abandoned.

Still Hope For Football in 2020

So, there’s a reason colleges are so desperate to hold football games in some capacity. Football is the biggest moneymaker for most athletic departments around the US, with basketball a distant second. In many cases, the football program at a school will generate enough money to make it possible for other sports programs to exist at all.

Unfortunately, some schools have already started to cut down on their athletic programs. Cincinnati dumped men’s soccer, while Old Dominion axed wrestling. Central Michigan did away with men’s track and field, while Bowling Green eliminated baseball.

Media partners, including ESPN, would also take a massive hit if football has to be called off. The network has a financial stake in the SEC and ACC Networks, and filling airtime has already been difficult enough in the early days of the pandemic. Eliminating college football would likely leave the fall weekend schedule sorely lacking.

While the numbers are daunting, the NCAA and its schools are actively trying to find solutions that don’t involve canceling the season entirely. On Wednesday, the NCAA’s Division I Council voted to allow schools to begin allowing football and basketball players to return to training facilities for voluntary workouts starting next month.

Conferences still have to vote to lift in-person activity bans, while individual schools will still be tasked with complying with their state’s social distancing guidelines.

No Cancellations Yet

No school has announced the cancellation of football season yet, but it is certainly possible that at least one of the 130 schools pulls the plug on playing this fall. The council added that schools will have extra flexibility when it comes to scheduling opponents, which is necessary if some schools decide against playing.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said on Wednesday that his school has looked into scenarios in which they could still have some fans at games. Ohio Stadium seats more than 100,000 people, and Smith says there’s a chance they could have around 20,000 fans inside the stadium while maintaining social distancing.

Whether that is a realistic idea remains to be seen, but there is no shortage of desire among schools to find a way to make a football season happen this fall.

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Taylor Smith / Author

Taylor is a sports writer based in Southern California. While he primarily specializes in basketball, baseball and football, he will also dabble in things like soccer and politics from time to time. He has lived in just about every corner of the United States at one point or another, and he has been covering sports and sports betting for the better part of a decade. Taylor currently lives in Long Beach with his fiancé and their two cats.

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