The NCAA has some major issues at hand. There’s a high probability that one of two options with play out with football, and neither one of them is good.
Sure, the college football season usually begins its regular season the first Saturday in September. But the reality of that happening on time is looking less likely each day.
No one knows for sure when it will be safe to return to college football. But a couple of options have more sharpened spines than a saguaro cactus.
One option is playing college football without fans. The obvious concerns that have been voiced by players, coaches and administrators is: how can players be asked to play games if it’s not even safe enough for students to be on campus?
It’s a valid question, and unlike baseball, I’m not sure football can be played while still practicing social distancing. I have yet to hear a plan for how this proposal would be carried out while protecting the health and safety of players, coaches and staff.
But that’s not the only problem with playing to empty stadiums.
This decision will largely be determined by money. Schools don’t want to lose the massive amount of revenue, reportedly $4 billion, that football generates each year.
So when university presidents and conference commissioners push this plan to play football in empty stadiums during the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone will know it’s about money.
Except college athletes don’t get paid because we have this thing called amateurism. While I don’t support college athletes getting paid a salary or stipend — I do think they should be able to profit from their image and likeness — this is a real issue.
You will have players forming together to bring an enormous lawsuit against the NCAA. If players are forced to play during a time when it’s not deemed safe for students to be on campus, and the reason is money — the notion of amateurism is destroyed.
And it would be destroyed permanently.
Secondly, what happens if there is a vastly reduced schedule or no football season at all? That would have dire consequences as well. That $4 billion gets distributed among all schools, and football is the only sport that drives revenue.
Men’s basketball makes some, but it pales in comparison to football.
According to a 2017 study by the Department of Education, the average revenue among 127 FBS (Division I) schools from football ($31.9 million) was nearly four times more than men’s basketball ($8.1 million).
Every other sport, on average, loses money. That means football essentially funds all the other sports and allows them to exist. Without that revenue, how will many of the other collegiate sports survive?
In Fiscal Year 2018, Texas had the highest revenue from athletics at $219.4 million, with $144.5 million coming from football. Arizona State was 29th in total revenue at $113.6 million, but it operated in the red with expenses at $126.7 million.
So eliminate all that football revenue if there is no season. But also consider how that revenue would be affected if they had a football season in front of empty stadiums.
“For some schools, crowdless games could result in a loss of up (to) 75 percent of football revenue,” ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell said in a tweet Wednesday.
Sports like baseball, softball, swimming, volleyball, tennis and many others rely on football revenue to exist. Those sports need that money to fund scholarships.
Thousands of athletic scholarships to those sports could be lost without football revenue. And that means thousands of students who rely on athletic scholarships to get a college education could be left out in the cold.
It’s a sobering thought.
This could all depend on when it’s deemed safe for students to return to college campuses, and subsequently, when it’s safe for them to attend sporting events.
And even that is more complex than it seems because some schools may be ready to return before others because the virus outbreak was better contained in their state and more testing is available.
Expect the NCAA to do everything in its power to have football in some fashion this season. That could mean moving the season back months, even playing into next spring.
Keeping people safe is the No. 1 priority. But the consequences of not having football could be devastating for thousands of other athletes. And the specter of legal issues remain.
Uncertainty still rules the day. We don’t know what will happen.
But now we’re counting on the NCAA to come up with solutions to a complex problem. I don’t have confidence that it will.