2020 has been a year like no other. The world has been at a halt since the worldwide appearance of COVID-19. The Pandemic, as we now know it, has resulted in more than 173,000 deaths in the U.S. alone and over 789,000 deaths worldwide. Schools, jobs, entertainment and sports were suspended and postponed until very recently, as some cautiously get back on their feet. Life, as we remember it has very slowly started to go back to “normal”.
As far as sports go, professional sports leagues, such as the NBA, NHL and MLB, have returned, but without the physical presence of fans in attendance. The NFL has returned to training camp but has the leeway to make alterations as their regular season (with pre-season games eliminated this year) doesn’t return until Sept. 10.
On the other hand, the NCAA is currently in a dilemma, as there have been multiple conferences opting out of the season. On Aug. 5, UConn football became the first team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to opt-out of the upcoming season. Since Aug. 6, two conferences in the Power Five have opted out of playing football in the fall. Those conferences that have opted out are the Big Ten and Pac-12.
Financial Impact of Big Ten and Pac-12 cancelling Fall season
While the news about Big Ten and Pac-12 has to be tough to hear for both players and fans, the financial impact overall of the fall games being cancelled is just as bad, if not worse. For the Big Ten, the financial impact of postponing the fall season is immense.
According to the New York Post, the schools in the Big Ten could lose more than $275 million in ticket sales and $1 billion overall in lost revenue. Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State is set to see a financial loss of $104 million alone, including $50 million in ticket sale losses.
Not only are the schools in the Big Ten losing money from fall football being postponed, but the surrounding communities are also devastated. Businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio are among the cities that will feel the economic downfall due to Big Ten football not playing in 2020.
In Ann Arbor, many businesses rely on fans buying their products before and after games. Andy Mignery, a business owner in the city, operates multiple sites, including two juice bars and co-owning Pretzel-Bar. Mignery spoke with Reuters about the financial impact cancelling fall football will have on the city of Ann Arbor. Mignery predicts that Ann Arbor will lose approximately $85 million due to the postponed season. Mignery also mentioned that up to 40 percent of the annual revenue of some Ann Arbor businesses come from the Wolverine home games played during the season.
The financial impact was never more evident than during the recent Nebraska drama. Head coach Scott Frost stated that the Cornhuskers would seek to play games on their own outside of the Big Ten. Big Ten Commissioner, Kevin Warren, reminded Nebraska that any such attempt would cost the school their $50 million dollar share of Big Ten revenue. Nebraska has since changed their mind on playing outside the conference rules.
Like the Big Ten, Pac-12 is also facing a major dip in revenue due to the lost season. The loss is estimated to be up to $1 billion, according to Mercury News. Specifically, Oregon State University is taking a big hit, not only due to losing fall football but also because of fewer students on campus. Cancelling the fall season alone will cost OSU $50 million; taking in account the loss of students and purchases on campus, the school is expected to lose out on about $200 million.
“It’s a $200 million shot that Oregon State is gonna have to figure out how to handle,” said OSU President F. King Alexander to KGW8.
Where do the other conferences stand in the Power Five in regards to the upcoming fall season?
At big-time schools like Alabama, football by far generates the most money. Football programs in college can make up to $150 million a year and take up as much as 75 percent of college sports annual revenue(The Path Forward).
On June 26, it was announced that the Clemson football team had 37 members on the team test positive for the virus. Despite that, Clemson has shown no signs of opting out of the upcoming season, and one would assume that money is a huge factor.
Recently, University of North Carolina (also of the ACC) has seen an uptick of COVID-19 positive tests, with 130 students testing positive between Aug. 10-16. UNC has elected to go virtual, hosting online classes for the fall. Despite this, UNC still plans on playing football in the fall.
“We still are expecting to play this fall, and we will continue to evaluate the situation in coordination with the University, the ACC, state and local officials and health officials,” the UNC athletic department said in a release. “The health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff and community remain our priority.”
According to ESPN, if the upcoming college football season is cancelled, it could result in an astounding loss of $4 billion in total revenue. While the Pac-12 and Big Ten cancelled their fall football seasons, the SEC, ACC and Big 12 plan on playing.
As it currently stands, the ACC is slated to come back the week of Sept. 7 to 12. The ACC will play an 11-game schedule with 10 conference games and one non-conference game. The Big 12 is slated to begin on Sept. 26 and will be playing a 10-game schedule with nine conference games and one non-conference game. The SEC will start their season on Sept. 26, playing a 10-game schedule with all of them being conference games.
One would have to assume that money is a huge factor in deciding to play in the fall. In the 2019 fiscal year, The University of Texas of the Big 12 generated a staggering $114 million in profit, according to Star Telegram. It should be noted that in 2019, the games were played with fans, so half of that profit could have been from ticket sales alone.
There has not been a decision yet on if fans will be in attendance for games. As a whole, in the 2019 fiscal year, the SEC conference as a whole brought in $720.6 million in total revenue with $45.3 million being distributed to each of the 13 teams in the conference, as stated by USA Today. The Big 12 fell behind the SEC, but still managed to generate $439 million, with around $38.2 million to $42 million going to each of the 10 teams. The ACC hauled in $455.4 million, with payouts between $27.6 million to $34 million going to 14 schools.
For certain conferences, money may be a priority over health and safety.