Football is coming back to the Big Ten, but at what cost? Literally, what is it going to cost? In announcing the conference's decision to start the football season on Oct. 24, the Big Ten revealed a comprehensive plan of safety protocols that would have to be maintained by the schools. Part of those protocols was a call for daily testing.
"The conference looked directly at testing, a point of care, daily antigen testing that our student-athletes will do six to seven days a week," Maryland athletic director Damon Evans said.
While the tests are now more readily available than at the start of the pandemic, that does not mean they will be cheap, and evidently each member school will be responsible for paying the bill.
"[The University of Maryland] will be responsible for paying for testing," Evans said. "Each institution in the Big Ten will be responsible for paying for the tests that we utilize moving forward. As you might imagine, it could be quite expensive. I don't know the exact dollar amount right now, but if I had to take a guess, it could be somewhere from $700 to $1 million per institution to do this type of testing as comprehensive as we want to be. And when you're dealing with medical and looking out for the health and safety and the welfare of our students, this is what's most appropriate so we've committed to do so and we will have to find the funds."
For a school to spend $1 million on testing just for the football team raises some obvious ethical and financial questions.
The team physician, Dr. Yvette Rooks, was asked directly at a press conference held by Maryland in the wake of the Big Ten's decision on Wednesday if she had any ethical concerns about schools providing testing to the football team that will not be available to the rest of the student body.
"A lot of us who are team physicians are also primary care physicians, ie family doctors and so that was key for us that we weren't taking away from communities or resources that really need them, especially the communities at risk," Dr. Rooks said. "I'm a proponent of the social inequities in health and so I would not be part of a plan that was going to do that. So we looked at that and made sure these were resources that are going to be allowable and not to take away from those communities that needed it the most."
But in the midst of the tough economic times brought on by the pandemic, can the school really justify the financial cost?
When it comes to football, the answer is an emphatic yes.
By not playing football, Evans said the school stood to lose approximately $60 to $65 million. Maryland will not be able to make all of that up in a shortened season with no fans in the stands, but it will make up some of that.
"Obviously playing football will allow us to recoup some of the revenue that we were losing if we did not have a season, but it's still going to be a tough financial situation for us moving forward," Evans said. "Obviously if it's an eight or nine-game schedule or what have you, each game has a certain value to it. We were projecting somewhere around a $60 to maybe $65 million loss with regard to no football."
Evans also added, "As we go through these tough financial times, there are areas in which we need to spend money and spending money on the health of our student-athletes and protecting them through this is of significance."