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Athletic directors warn of dire financial consequences if coronavirus impacts college football in the fall

Spring practice around college football has been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic across the country.

While that has been a big inconvenience to coaches and players, they at least haven’t had their entire season canceled like athletes participating in NCAA spring sports. However, with estimates that it could take months to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, what would happen if football were put on ice just like everything else?

Financially speaking, some athletic directors would say it would be dire for the entire college system.

“For right now, it’s all manageable,” Florida AD Scott Stricklin told the Orlando Sentinel, “but the question your mind goes to really quickly is if this lasts into another school year. From a financial standpoint, if we’re not playing football games in the fall, it will shake the foundation of college athletics. As everyone knows, football pays for the enterprise to go forward.”

Already SEC schools are looking at a potential drop of an estimated $3 million in distributions. An impact to the football season and suddenly you’re in the process of adding zeros to that number. It’s not just the lack of media dollars either as ticket sales and booster donations would dry up too. Not only would it be a huge disruption to football teams but some schools -- even the big ones -- might not have money to pay for the so-called ‘non-revenue sports’ like volleyball or soccer.

UF alone took in some $161 million in revenues in 2018, according to USA Today. Nearly $64 million came from rights/licensing and another $32 million from ticket sales. The bulk of those figures flowed from the football program.
“Your mind wanders about how long this thing is going to be in front of us, and it’s unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt remarked to the Dallas Morning News. “We haven’t had significant time to really think through what the future holds, because it’s been all-consuming on the ongoing changes in the current situation.

“But make no mistake, football is the economic engine that drives college athletics, both in the Big 12 and on our campuses.”

So far there has been cautious optimism that things will not linger into August and beyond. The SEC has kept the door open for spring football so far and the Big 12 is doing the same. The former league is even moving full steam ahead with Media Days in July. Still, by most accounts we’re still in the early stages of containment of COVID-19 and dealing with its impact across society.

Add in a resulting recession with the broader economy and it could be a long road back to pads popping in the fall. Some are getting prepared for that eventuality but if it does end up happening, the ripple effects will be felt far and wide beyond just the gridiron.