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College football in front of no fans? Feasible but economics don’t work according to one AD

The coronavirus has stopped college football in its tracks. Talk to anybody around the sport though, and they’ll often couch it in terms like ‘for now.’

While most of the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has been limited to the postponement or cancellation of spring ball, there’s been a lot of talk about what happens if the current state of events pushes into the fall.

Some coaches are already making plans on the off chance that the season does getting delayed. Plans at the conference level are still being made about events in the summer but there exists the potential of things the gridiron being impacted come August and beyond. While cancelation of the 2020 season would be a catastrophic event to the entire athletics industry, there are some who will leave no stone unturned in order to get games played.

Could that also mean quasi-European style contests in empty stadiums without fans? It’s feasible according to one SEC AD even if it doesn’t make sense on the accounting front.
“I can’t comprehend it, especially looking at our place where you have facilities built specifically for housing these large gatherings, 100,000-plus people,” Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork told the Dallas Morning News, “and you have financing related to that based on ticket sales and advertising and suite sales and donations.

“So the whole model rises and falls based on football. If there’s no spectators maybe we can play, but if there’s no spectators, the economics just don’t work. That’s what we have to focus on is that long-term picture.”

The Aggies took in over $44 million in ticket sales (across all sports, but mostly football) in 2018, according to USA Today. That amounted to roughly 20% of their total revenue that year. While it may not be enough to axe something at their expensive college football program, it could lead to canceling a non-revenue sport like A&M volleyball.

We’re still a long ways away from having to make decisions like that in this sport just yet. But the time very well may come unless the spread of the coronavirus gets under control and local authorities give the go-ahead to having large gatherings once again.