We are in a tumultuous time. There is no way around it; COVID-19 has been in the forefront. COVID-19 has impacted the world physically, mentally, and financially. What is going on in colleges varies across the nation. Some are planning on in-person instruction, some are looking into a hybrid model, some are going fully online. As far as athletics are concerned, football is crucial because it pays for the majority of all athletic programs. At this point, it looks like the best case scenario may be playing a full conference schedule; there is also a possibility that the season moves to the spring. In this article, we are going to address the impact that COVID-19 will have on the future of college athletics. (Please remember that news is fluid and circumstances may have changed since this article was written.)
1- The Loss of Power 5 “Pay Games”
This is perhaps the biggest hit to small schools. These games can bring in millions of dollars to programs. For some, these games keep their athletic programs afloat. Schools like New Mexico and Hawaii rely heavily on these games and are going to lose millions of dollars in revenue now that they are canceled.
The news of these games being canceled does not financially impact all schools the same way. Boise State, for example, does not play one and done games any more. Losing the Florida State game was awful for the fans, but the football program is well positioned to recover from this. For that reason, will this create a larger gap between the top and bottom of the Mountain West? That remains to be seen.
2- The Loss of Other Athletic Programs
We have already seen that Olympic programs at some universities will not survive this. Boise State has already announced that they have cut the baseball program and the women’s swim and dive program. This news was heartbreaking. Boise State has always been conservative financially and wants to avoid being in the “red” at any cost. Stanford has also announced that they will be cutting a significant number of athletic programs.
There is a Division I requirement that each school must compete in at least 16 different athletic events. Will the NCAA change that? It wouldn’t shock me if they lower that number since so many schools will be operating in a deficit.
3- The Gap Widens
Schools like Alabama and Clemson will be fine. They bring in a significant amount of television revenue and should have enough money in the bank to withstand this. However, Group of Five schools and FCS schools are going to be forced to make some very difficult decisions. Football can be a very difficult sport to fund. Does this mean the end of football programs at some schools? Do some schools look into dropping a classification? If we think that college football is going to look the same next year or the year after, we are kidding ourselves. There are some schools that won’t be able to support football into the future and some of those schools might be in the Mountain West.
4- What Happens When Things Return to Normal?
It has been amazing to me that so many programs have been posting tweets about athletic records in the spring. I keep thinking about how difficult the transition to “normal” life is going to be. In-person classes are far more rigorous than online; will this impact the academic standing of students? Colleges are going to have to put a significant amount of effort into making sure that students are getting the academic support they need to be successful.
5- The End Game
How does this all play out? Nobody really knows. But one thing is certain, this is going to create a greater chasm in college athletics, especially football. Some schools are going to be forced to make some very difficult decisions, and it could lead to cutting programs and another round of conference realignment. We won’t have a shortage of news, that’s for sure.
How do you think this will play out? Will all of the schools in the Mountain West survive?