COVID-19 Could Disrupt College Sports, Athletic Departments

NCAA president Mark Emmert said Tuesday that he remains “very concerned” about the viability of fall sports and that a delayed start – or an abbreviated schedule – might make sense.

Time will tell how Emmert and the NCAA proceed, but make no mistake: football will absolutely guide their decision-making.

“Let’s face it: that is the big money-maker,” College Football Talk writer Bryan Fischer said on After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “That’s what athletic directors are really judged on. I think it’s certainly what the presidents understand is propping up a lot of these athletic departments, so that is where the focus is going to be. If you had to sacrifice your soccer teams, your swimming teams, maybe push those seasons to the spring in order to save football and really focus on that, I think you would see a lot of athletic directors vote for that.

“Everybody understands that football is going to kind of make the decision for all other sports first,” Fischer continued. “If you can bring back football, then maybe you can kind of get into the weeds and bring back some of the others. But without those other sports, without those non-revenue sports, there’s probably little chance that football is going to happen as well. Everybody wants to kind of make sure that they do understand the optics for this and they understand that there is also one sport that is kind of driving the bus in terms of the money and in terms of the decision-making.”

As Fischer explained, college football doesn’t just fund college football. It funds the vast majority of athletic programs and has a huge impact on colleges and universities overall.

“Even the big-time programs in the Big Ten and the SEC and the Pac-12, without football money, they are hurting,” Fischer said. “They’ve really kind of put themselves into this corner with years and years of really spending up to their limit. If you can raise $5 million, you’re going to end up spending it. It might be on new soccer shorts; it might be on a new football analyst. You’re going to spend that every year. With margins that thin, it really does put a lot of these schools in a precarious situation because they don’t have that rainy-day fund.”

Indeed, college football has been a cash cow for decades. COVID-19, however, could bring college sports to its knees.

“It has simply been money in and money out for so many years right now,” Fischer said. “All that bloat, all [the] extra administrative [staff], extra coaching staff, extra facilities that you can certainly question whether it was needed – that’s kind of coming back to bite a lot of these programs and a reason why I think everybody is so focused on this decision. They’re going to lose millions of dollars no matter what in 2020 and likely in 2021. It’s really just a matter of how much and how can we really keep that to a minimum?”

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