With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to spread across the United States, the economic toll of wide-spread quarantine is touching every industry, college athletics included. Athletic directors are preparing for the worst, as the threat of a delayed or canceled football season looms overhead.
While many Power 5 programs are flush with cash and could weather the storm, there’s little doubt that a missed season would bankrupt the majority of the programs this site covers. Aside from ticket booth revenue, the loss of TV rights payouts and “body bag” games would leave most G5 programs destitute.
On April 10th, the commissioners for the MAC, MWC, C-USA, Sunbelt, and AAC penned a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert to seek a waiver to several bylaws that are intended to ensure each Division I program commits to a high level of financial investment in their athletics programs.
Per ESPN, the three rules of concern are as follows:
- Offer a minimum of 200 athletic grants-in-aid per year or spend at least $4 million in grants-in-aid on athletes, and provide 90% of the permissible maximum grants-in-aid in football over a rolling two-year period.
- Once every two years on a rolling basis, average at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football games. This requirement applies only to FBS schools.
- Play minimum numbers of total games and home games in sports such as baseball, football and basketball and minimum percentage of games against Division I or FBS competition in various sports.
Bullet points two and three are no surprise. If seasons are unable to begin as anticipated due to coronavirus concerns, or programs decide to play in empty stadiums, then these rules should be paused for the foreseeable future.
The first bullet point is the most concerning, as revoking the bylaw clearly paves the way for athletic directors to begin cutting Olympic sports that do not generate the revenue of, say, football or men’s basketball. We’ve already seen such cuts this month, as Cincinnati has disbanded their soccer program and Old Dominion has nixed their wrestling program.
Just as COVID-19 has made telecommuting commonplace and food delivery apps mainstream, the pandemic may leave a lasting impression on college athletics as well if Division I programs are allowed to disband their non-revenue generating sports with impunity. Unfortunately, every dollar spent on golf shoes or shot puts would be allocated to multi-million dollar football coaching contracts if many athletic directors didn’t have to worry about Title IX implications and NCAA requirements.
Sports with large travel budgets will likely be in the crosshairs if NCAA bylaws requiring a certain number of scholarships/sponsored sports are waived. Per data collected and provided by DIYCollegeRankings.com, the average Division I athletics program spent nearly $900,000 on annual operating expenses for their softball programs over the span of 2013 to 2017. It’s easy to imagine many athletic directors reviewing such a large expense and think of how many amenities it could provide football and basketball programs to catch up with better-funded rival programs.
As the old saying goes, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
There’s plenty of debate to be had over the role athletics should play on a college campus. With the cost of tuition rapidly rising at institutions across the nation, it can be increasingly difficult to justify student tuition fees subsidizing cross country and tennis teams that few students will ever watch compete.
However, there’s no denying the endless opportunities that athletic scholarships have provided to first generation students, men and women of color, and other disadvantaged scholars.
If this pandemic does mark the reduction of non-revenue generating sports then there’s no doubt society will miss its chance to educate some brilliant athletes who could make a lasting impact on society once their playing days are over. Many of these talented young men and women will not be able to afford college without an athletic scholarship.
Myron Rolle, Florida State football star turned Rhodes Scholar and neurosurgeon, is a great example of how athletes can flourish in academic pursuits once given an opportunity to devote themselves to higher education. Rolle is currently working around the clock at Massachusetts General Hospital to save the lives of coronavirus patients.
Who knows, maybe the next Myron Rolle was depending on a wrestling scholarship from Old Dominion to be able to pursue his biology degree? Would Rolle be serving patients on the front line of the fight against COVID-19 today had he not been afforded the opportunity to pursue higher education thanks to his athletic abilities? Can we afford to let more men and women like Rolle miss out on following their dreams before the next pandemic rolls around?