College athletic departments are quiet, spring sports seasons have been canceled and the future of college athletics is as clear as mud thanks to the financial uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic. The commissioners of the Group of Five conferences are concerned.
The commissioners of the AAC, Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt and Conference USA sent a joint letter to NCAA commissioner Mark Emmert earlier this month that paints a very concerning picture. According to Yahoo Sports, the letter asks the NCAA for relief of several regulatory requirements for a four-year period in order to prepare for a potential loss of revenue. Among those requests is a reduction of mandatory school-sponsored for FBS programs. As of now, every FBS school is required to have a minimum of 16 varsity athletic teams. The letter also asks the NCAA to waive the minimum football attendance requirements.
“We have been working closely with our membership for the past few weeks developing potential options to address the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson in a statement released Tuesday night. “Other conferences are engaged in the same process and this collaborative request from the Group of Five is intended as the sort of creative alternative these unprecedented times demand. The waivers of NCAA legislation would create a permissive environment, allowing each institution and conference across the Division I landscape the necessary flexibility to determine how best to proceed in making financial adjustments which are intended to preserve sports and opportunities for student-athletes.”
The letter from the Group of Five commissioners to the NCAA suggests that schools are preparing for a massive change in the college athletics landscape — especially if the shutdown drastically alters or eliminates the football season. Football provides a massive revenue stream to FBS programs, and a decrease in that revenue would make sponsoring certain non-revenue sports almost impossible until — or if — things return to normal.
It is the latest in a string of news items over the last few weeks that paint a grim picture for the financial future of college athletics. CBS Sports writer Dennis Dodd reported this week that Ohio State is preparing for a possible loss of $50 million if fans are not allowed to attend football games. Coaches at Washington State, Iowa State, Wake Forest and several other schools have either taken pay cuts or reportedly will in the near future. Cincinnati went so far as to eliminate its men’s soccer program.
“This was a difficult decision, but one made with the long-term interests of UC Athletics at the forefront,” Cincinnati AD John Cunningham said. “During this time of profound challenges and widespread uncertainty, I have engaged in a comprehensive and thorough review of UC’s sport offerings and long-term budget implications of supporting the number of student-athletes currently at UC.”
That’s how important college football is to athletic departments. Schools are already preparing for a worst-case scenario. That scenario doesn’t seem to far-fetched.