Nearly every Football Bowl Subdivision athletic director agrees that there will be a college football season in the 2020-21 NCAA calendar, and there’s good reason for that.
That was about all they could agree on — and there’s good reason for that, too.
Stadium’s Brett McMurphy contacted all 130 FBS ADs and 114 responded. Of those responses, 99 percent said that, yes, there will be a college football season, that not even a coronavirus pandemic would cancel that. That level of optimism should surprise no one. The other side of the coin is a nightmare.
The television agreements that FBS conferences have are, in most cases, a massive chunk of change. For the Power 5 conferences like the Big 12 and the SEC, they’re worth tens of millions of dollars to each team each year.
How big is that? The Big 12 made $36.5 million per school from its TV deal in 2017-18. West Virginia’s total revenues in 2017-18 were nearly $102.7 million, so losing TV would have axed more than a third of WVU’s athletic revenues. And of the eight Big 12 schools in the USA Today database, four of them had revenue totals that year of $89.2 million or lower.
So, to avoid austerity measures that would make the government of Greece go, “Whoa! Dial it back, hoss,” college football needs to happen.
But when? That’s where opinions diverge.
Only 24 percent of respondents predicted the season would start on time in August. Forty-one percent saw a normal 12-game season, but one that would start in October or November. Eleven percent saw a 12-game season with a spring 2021 start.
Another 23 percent saw just a conference-only schedule for next season (more on the problems with that in a second). Twenty percent predicted a conference-only schedule in October or November, and 3 percent predicted it a conference-only spring schedule.
Let’s take a look at the consequences of a conference-only schedule, namely that athletic departments, especially smaller ones, would be in big, big trouble. Among those non-conference games are “guarantee games,” where power schools agree to pay a bunch of money to smaller schools for an early-season home game.
Penn State paid seven figures to Idaho for a game in Happy Valley. Kentucky shelled out seven figures to host Toledo. Same for Wisconsin and their deal with Central Michigan. Cut out the non-conference and those games don’t happen.
That hurts the power programs and their surrounding communities, which would stand to make millions from that game. But Louisiana-Monroe got $1.65 million to play at Florida State. ULM’s total athletic revenues for 2017-18 were $15.5 million.
So bank on a 12-game season, if the FBS ADs have anything to say about it. Just don’t bank on a concrete start date yet. They don’t know. Neither do I. Neither do you.
These ADs can’t plan for August when they don’t know what the landscape will be in August, much less what it will be even in May. Each new day brings with it new information about the pandemic and future days could bring paradigm-shifting news. Maybe we wake up one day and there’s a vaccine. Maybe we wake up one day and there’s a massive spike in positive cases.
Even now, responses vary from state to state. According to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations’ charts, Georgia won’t hit peak hospital resource use until next week, and Gov. Brian Kemp has started a plan to reopen the state. Using the same charts, West Virginia looks like it has passed its peak, but Gov. Jim Justice is taking a more measured approach.
All that is known so far is that there is so much of the future that is unknown. So the best bet for everyone sitting at home hoping for a college football season is to wait for the experts to make the decisions. The athletic directors will listen to their school administrations which will listen to the medical experts.
College athletic budgets depend on football to fill coffers. Those coffers just might start filling up a little later in the year.