Within the college sports industry, the word for now about a 2020-21 football season is optimism amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Somehow, some way, at some point, games will be played.
Right beneath the surface, however, is the knowledge that it might not be normal. Or, that it might not be at all.
At stake is at least $4.1 billion in fiscal-year revenue for the athletics departments at just the 50-plus public schools in the Power Five conferences — an average of more than $78 million per school — a USA TODAY Sports analysis of schools’ financial reports to the NCAA shows.
That’s more than 60% of these schools’ combined total annual operating revenues, based on amounts reported for the 2019 fiscal year. These estimates do not take into account potential impacts on student fees or money from schools’ general funds, both of which likely would be reduced if students cannot return to campus as usual for the fall semester. Even within the Power Five, there are schools that receive significant amounts from those sources.
All of this is “why they’re going to try their damnedest to have a season of 12 games, regardless of what months” in which it occurs, said Dan Rascher, a University of San Francisco sport management professor who has been an expert witness on the economics of major-college athletics for plaintiffs in antitrust cases against the NCAA. “The question is whether they will get the same revenues for the games.”
The biggest challenge that lies ahead for conference commissioners, school presidents and athletic directors is coming up with a way to rationalize whatever corners have to be cut in order to put on a 2020 football season with as little blowback as possible.