The chain reaction has started with the first of the Power 5 conferences, the Big Ten, Pac-12, announcing conference-only games last week. In contrast and more expectedly, the Ivy League canceled all fall sports.
As we all can see and read the obvious, the responses are mainly reactive. The next questions all-around have to be of all the ways to be proactive, because we already know all collegiate sports will be greatly limited or not happen at all this year.
The growing uncertainty of the pandemic already means certain turmoil for the MWC, as for all conferences. Hemorrhaging money, dropping sports, rescheduling games and potential lawsuits are the tip of the iceberg.
Since mid-March, many of us shared the frustration of sheltering-in-place and/or keeping the kids home and/or losing jobs or our friends and loved ones – and, of course, not having sports in our lives.
Including the weeks and months before mid-March, all that time was for naught. The Covid-19 outbreak is now much worse (depending on your data sources and relative interpretations) meaning schools may not or should not open and college football may not or should not happen.
Any idea or plan for re-opening starts off on shaky ground without the highest level of direction and leadership. Right now, we’re no where close to being on the same page.
At this time, we can only count on frustration, irrationalness and divisiveness boiling over.
Let’s start to put it in context
For the MWC, all the things at the tip of that iceberg applies to most all schools and it obviously all revolves around money, then health and safety (or vice versa depending on spin) - millions and millions already lost and millions more in expected losses.
Case in fact, the cancellation of the March NCAA tourney started the financial avalanche with at least six-figure losses to each member school.
Also, Stanford permanently cut 11 sports slated to lose $12 million. That’s a warning salvo, especially coming from a school that could cover those losses better than most. Yet, looking at east coast P5 schools such as Penn State, they are on the financial upside, primarily from football profits, and aren’t planning any sports cuts.
Goes to show how the depth of football culture differs from coast-to-coast and thus the money effect. The Pac-12, for example, isn’t keeping up financially vs. other P5 conference schools.
Unfortunately, most athletic departments will feel the continued strain of dealing with the pandemic. So much so, there’s supposed rumblings from some G5 athletic directors thinking of suing P5 schools for their “guaranteed” money from canceled non-conference games. Economics 101: desperation is not a strategy.
Closer to home
Boise State’s decision to unabashedly cut baseball, swimming and diving is the first casualty and possible sign of what’s to come for the MWC.
But all indications and overtones from MWC commissioner Craig Thompson seem to be about softening the blow instead of cutting sports.
Thompson is mentioning shortening game schedules, having less players, consolidating travel, pushing out the fall season and of course, in-conference games only. Right behind all that is cost cutting of scholarships, staffing, facilities and construction, coaches’ salaries, insurance and so on.
The backbone behind all of collegiate sports is football. Thompson makes it abundantly clear if there is no fall football, the rest of the dominos will fall, as the line most of us are quoting from Thompson, “85% of our revenue comes from football. Without it this fall, there is no chance there will be any other sports.”
Another big income blow on the horizon is with the CBS and Fox contracts. If the MWC can’t make the game schedules, its losses will be significant and will only be compounded by lower ticket sales and booster losses.
Whatever it is, it’s crystal clear things are going to be very different.
The logistics of it all
College sports are much less in a vacuum than pro sports. The idea to follow the lead of the NFL or NBA in coming back is an illusion.
Among the venue types and conferences, there’s hardly any uniformity or any way to create uniformity in short order. With so many kids on campuses and more athletes testing positive every day, colleges are bound to be the next outbreak hotbeds if they open too early. There’s ample precedent proving that.
The need to continually test players, screen fans and consistently follow protocols are insanely difficult – let alone containing all that comes from the excitement of a game, and considering the demographics.
Coming back is all so new; even if we tried, irrecoverable mistakes will be made. So, even the idea of conference-only games doesn’t mean things will better or safer.
The long-lasting effects
With live entertainment overall in jeopardy, the allure and need for football and sports will clearly never go away.
It just means the strong will survive and the weaker will consolidate (and the independents conjugate). And hopefully, this can mean innovation, but those commissioners and boards usually aren’t the innovators and pioneers, unfortunately.
Thompson is more conservative as is the NCAA cartel, who’s power and influence itself is in question vs. what the P5 already wields. For the MWC, they’ll likely wait then follow before doing anything new (though we’d love to be proven wrong).
There’s going to have to be a lot more pain from operating at or below 20% capacity before any proactive innovation takes place, such as our hint of amalgamating live sports, technology and more creativity.
And what of the voice of the student-athletes caught up in all this? They’ve been out there working out and are soon to be among their coaches. A recent sample size from an Athletic article mostly suggests what we expect: let’s play. But we’re within something so much bigger than any individual.
Only if this virus was something everyone can see or experience like a natural disaster or a really bad case of acne or the aliens invading, so it can only be interpreted in one absolute way, then you know we’d band together like nobody’s business.
The best of the collective human spirit needs to show up across-the-board and top-to-bottom, at least temporarily, so we can find our way again, then get back to our sports.