To date, several conferences have canceled all Fall sports for the upcoming season (including football) and the Big Ten & PAC-12 conferences made the move to in-conference opponents only. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 cases spiking around the country, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which college football could be played. Theoretically, much like the NBA is attempting to do, college football players could be kept in a “bubble” of sorts and continuously tested to ensure they and staff members around them remain negative and cancel the other sports. This proposal, however, has at least one significant drawback. First, the majority of college football players are black men. This point needs to be underscored because it could be implied that athletics competition might not be safe for the other sports to compete but athletic departments are willing to put the well-being of their student-athletes at risk to generate revenue. In the wake of the current racial climate in the United States, this does not seem like a wise decision. College football players are recognizing that although they want to play football, their health and safety are more important and can demand that other safety parameters are being implemented before they feel comfortable playing football again.
If there is no college football season this Fall, the aftermath could be devastating as athletic departments collectively stand to lose at least $4.1 billion. On average, each school could lose upwards of $78 million each. Less we forget the economic impact that college football games have on the surrounding communities which certainly adds up. This scenario seems to be more likely as cases continue to rise nationally.
Recognizing the reality of the circumstances they are presented with, athletic departments have already begun to reduce expenses as much as possible, which does include reducing the number of staff that works in these departments. The fact that the largest line-item expense for athletic departments is staff salaries, compensation, and benefits. However, there is still a looming question. What do you do when you’ve reduced the number of staff to the barebones essentials and reduced the budget by cutting spending? The next logical step is to look at the number of sports the department sponsors and consider reducing those. With no college football this fall, this seems like the next logical step. Athletic departments seemed to have reached the same conclusion and have already begun this process. Only a few weeks ago, Stanford eliminated some of their sports.
The impact of reducing sports on a nationwide level will be felt from the youth to the professional ranks (including the Olympic sports), especially for women as their opportunities to compete post-collegiately are not as abundant as their male counterparts. For many reasons, I hope there is a college football season but with each passing day, I am growing more and more pessimistic about the reality of that happening.
What we need to consider is preparing for life after COVID and what that will look like. One possible solution could be to revisit revenue-generating opportunities for the athletic departments. While it is true that stadiums cannot fit any more people into their stands, we can look around at other industries and adapt to the changing times. For example, E-Sports has become extremely popular in the last several years, and hosting those types of events could be another opportunity. The point here is that the industry will need to adapt to the changing times. Adaptation seems the only reasonable way forward.