Back in March, we used the term undertow to describe the impending economic impact of this coronavirus across the college sports landscape.
This week the surge hit multiple shorelines with a vengeance.
Choose your headline. The Ivy League announces no fall-semester sports. The Big Ten announces it will play only in-conference fall competition, adding in a loud voice, “We may not have sports in the fall.”
Maybe the big shocker: Stanford announces it is getting rid of 11 varsity sports.
“Stanford was one of the most shocking things in my lifetime,” said one veteran college administrator at a lower level. “Only because they’re the gold standard. We thought we were the only ones being challenged. That’s a major message.”
Update: All standards and protocols are being revised on the fly by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also stands to reason, the more revenue you bring in, the more trouble you’ll be in if that revenue stops.
The dropping of multiple sports by Dartmouth and Brown was almost as big a surprise, since those Ivy schools aren’t bringing in big sports revenue. It’s just another indicator of the deep financial crisis caused by this pandemic across the landscape.
And for those who say Stanford and the Ivies could dip into their massive endowments to save some of these sports, there are laws limiting how much of endowments can go toward operating costs.
The news of the week with the most potential trickle-down is the one from the Big Ten, since reports say the ACC and Pac-12 also may announce conference-only play in the fall semester, which means all of the Power 5 conferences could go that way. (None of them are guaranteeing there will be any games at all.)
Go to PSUsports.com Friday and you couldn’t find a 2020 football schedule. The drop-down menu skipped from 2019 right to 2021. While we’re resisting the urge to call that a metaphor for our times, it does accurately sum up the state of things. All TBD. But most definitely no Sept. 5 opener against Kent State or game at Virginia Tech on Sept. 12 or San Jose State in town on Sept. 19.
The trickle-down from all this is just massive. Asked about the money that schools such as Kent State and San Jose State get for their own budgets, one administrator used the phrase “absolutely crucial.”
The Indianapolis Star reported that Ball State was to get $1.675 million for playing Michigan and Indiana. So on top of probably losing your own home gate revenue and all the sponsorship and other financial problems that hit your campus, the biggest check you bring in is gone.
If more leagues go to this conference-only setup, Villanova can forget about cashing a nice check from Wake Forest for its scheduled Sept. 19 game. Here’s a much-anticipated one that won’t happen if the ACC drops non-conference play: Temple at Miami, Sept. 5. Good luck getting former 18-day Owls coach Manny Diaz, now the Hurricanes coach, to reschedule that one.
But honestly, righteous grudges against coaches don’t even make the top 50 of current concerns for colleges in survival mode. Basketball coaches at low majors know its part of their job description to schedule buy games. It might even be in their contract, how much money must be brought in.
At this point, every game schedule for every college game should include an asterisk with a notation that says, “We hope.” Everything everywhere comes with a built-in TBD.
The Middle Atlantic Conference -- which includes Arcadia, Delaware Valley, and Widener locally -- announced Friday it “intends to pursue” fall sports, starting competition no earlier than Sept. 18, and only competition within the league*.
The Centennial Conference -- with Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Swarthmore, and Ursinus -- has gone the other way. No fall sports. They announced that ahead of the Ivy League.
Back to Stanford. The school noted it was running its 36 varsity sports at a deficit, “projected to exceed $12 million in [fiscal year 2021] and to grow steadily in the years ahead.” And that was before COVID-19 hit.
With a decline in the number of college-age students projected to go to colleges, the whole landscape was headed for a reset, and college sports were destined to be in that resizing. We also aren’t close to knowing all the ramifications of the pandemic since we don’t have a handle as a society on how to deal with it. Plans that seemed promising a month ago have been tossed aside.
“We see the pattern hasn’t followed the same course that it has in other countries,” said Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun, the chair of the NCAA Division I council. “We continue to say, it’s irresponsible to make decisions too far out. We just don’t know if they’re going to be able to be followed through.”
You want another metaphor? Dartmouth just announced it is dropping men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s golf, and men’s lightweight rowing, citing “a projected $150 million financial deficit brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Dartmouth also announced it is closing up its local college-owned Hanover Country Club, “after years of the club’s running in the red, with deficits expected to swell to $1 million a year.”
Once maybe a country club, college sports as a whole right now more resembles a nine-hole pay-as-you-go muni course, bringing in just enough revenue to stay open* through the season.