Health is priceless, but the decision to prioritize it was not for the Big Ten. Canceling college football season for the safety of student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic will cost Big Ten athletic departments more than $275 million in ticket sales and could reach $1 billion in total lost revenue, according to NCAA fiscal reports …
Health is priceless, but the decision to prioritize it was not for the Big Ten.
Canceling college football season for the safety of student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic will cost Big Ten athletic departments more than $275 million in ticket sales and could reach $1 billion in total lost revenue, according to NCAA fiscal reports obtained by The Post.
At one end, Rutgers faces a vanishing $49 million, while cash-cow Ohio State’s would be out $104 million and include a league-high $50 million in lost tickets alone. It’s no wonder the Big Ten and like-minded Pac-12 are hoping to move football season to the spring rather than call it off.
“It reminds me of the quip by Warren Buffett: Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked,” Rutgers economics professor Mark Killingsworth said. “All of the schools are going to take a big financial beating, but some of the schools are much better equipped to weather the storm. Some have been run like a very tight ship. There are others — Rutgers is clearly the leading case — where spending has been insane.”
Projected losses are based on adding ticket and parking/concessions revenue from the 2018 season (most recent data available) to this year’s estimated per-school conference membership distribution ($54.6 million), then subtracting travel and gameday expenses. The numbers match the calculations first reported by N.J. Advance Media in July.
For the 13 Big Ten universities whose financial ledgers are public records (excluding Northwestern) the total is about $952 million.
“The financial implications are real,” new Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway said on NPR. “It’s too early to say, though, what gets cut.”
A Washington University study cited by Yahoo Sports estimates at least $4 billion lost if none of the 65 programs in the Power Five play, though the SEC, Big XII and ACC have yet to act. That modest estimate does not include media rights-fueled conference distribution, which an industry source says will plummet without football games.
Some conferences reportedly have looked into the possibility of a massive bailout loan.
“I don’t think we know the fiscal impact until we know when college sports is going to resume and under what conditions,” said David Carter, principal of The Sports Business Group and an associate professor of sports business at USC. “Schools are looking at how they stitch this together. They will have a hard time doing it with booster money. Some have said, ‘Allow us to keep your ticket money,’ but those are [relative] nickels and dimes.”
Rutgers traditionally operates one of the NCAA’s most heavily subsidized athletic departments, drawing on $45.2 million to balance a $103.2 million budget from university support, student fees, government support, an internal loan and by borrowing against future Big Ten payouts in fiscal year 2019. No football means losing a cash influx while still paying debt service and funding scholarships.
“I think Rutgers is going to follow exactly the same playbook it always has to fund athletics: By taking money away from the academic program,” Killingsworth said, citing an ongoing battle between the university and the faculty union over the loss of non-tenure-track positions.
It’s a similar story elsewhere.
Carter believes a lost season might be the eventual impetus for the much-speculated “super Division I” model, where a few dozen money-making programs break away to fully commercialize college athletics.
“The appetite of these universities for subsidizing their athletic departments by using university money is just about zero,” Carter said. “It doesn’t pass the eye test if they are bailing out their athletic departments but no longer able to provide the same financial assistance as they have in the past for the students.”