The resumption of university sports is however significant enough that Vice President Pence held a conference call with his main stakeholders on Wednesday. There are truths about college football that would have existed if the new coronavirus pandemic had not paralyzed the world. But these truths, with the season threatened, are being revealed for the moment. University athletics exists in the most fragile ecosystem. And the whole business depends on football.
Not just football. But football is played in crowded stadiums.
“If you don’t have a season,” Ohio sports director Gene Smith told reporters last week, “do the math on that. “
When it comes to college sports, there is so much to do. If Major League Baseball cannot play this summer and fall, it has a financial impact on players and owners, for sure. But if college football can’t be played this fall, it doesn’t affect players’ portfolios but the mere existence of an opportunity for gymnasts and lacrosse players, wrestlers and runners. The athletics departments through the Power Five conferences are built on football revenues. If this income evaporates – or even decreases – something will give.
Here’s an idea: why not start with coach salaries?
First, the math Smith talked about last week. The Buckeyes host seven games at Ohio Stadium each year – capacity 104,944 – because they need income from seven home games at Ohio Stadium. Playing without fans, Smith said, would cost the Buckeyes between $ 5 million and $ 7 million. per game. If seven games go missing, then – poof – there is somewhere between $ 35 and $ 49 million – potentially almost a quarter of the $ 210 million spent the department needed to keep 36 sports afloat last year.
And that doesn’t include the income generated by football from TV shows. Yes, maybe money would be made if the matches could be played in empty stadiums. Smith said during the conference call with reporters, “If we don’t have fans in the stands, we have determined that it is not safe for them in a gathering environment. Why would it be safe for players? Given the above calculations, there are clearly other factors at work as well.
College football needs fans because college football needs money because the rest of college sports – in so many schools – only exist because college football exists. So when Oklahoma state coach Mike Gundy said football should come back as soon as possible because “we have to get the money into Oklahoma”, he is at both deaf and honest.
That this money is generated by young men who receive nothing approaching their fair share of money is inevitable, of course, the constant thread running through all those not to be missed on Fall Saturdays. But there is a reason why the conference commissioners are ready to talk about a delayed season – which may even start in 2021 and play in the spring. There must be football. If preserving the current model is the goal – and if that should be another discussion entirely – then there must be football.
The NBA or the NHL could lose this year’s playoffs and start again next year, and that would certainly have an economic impact. But if college football hits an entire season, the infrastructure that supports so many of the 170,000 Division I athletes will collapse.
If revenues don’t evaporate – that is, there is some kind of season – but go down, costs must go down too. It would therefore be a shame if the blow to the largesse of football was felt by the athletes of other sports football media.
University sports are often called the porch of a given university. But the reality is, once you are on the porch and open the front door, there is at best a rocky bridge that spans the academic side of the school. Most major sports departments operate as separate companies. What they share with their schools is equivalent to a particular shade of a specific color and a few songs.
This does not mean that sports departments cannot show how to respond to the economic hardship that so many people are already enduring. CEOs across the country are taking wage cuts both as evidence of goodwill and as a cost saving measure in these economically crippling times. The CEO of Columbia sportswear cut his salary from $ 3 million to $ 10,000. The leaders of most major airlines lowered wages at least until June, some beyond. The CEO of Marriott, the world’s largest hotel chain, will have no salary until the end of this year.
So if sport managers are looking to cut costs at a time when people at the national level, almost invariably, are cutting costs, couldn’t they look at themselves – and, more impactfully, their football coaches?
Take the Ohio State example. The Buckeyes paid their assistant coaches a total of $ 7.245 million in 2019, according to data compiled by USA Today. Head coach Ryan Day is set to receive $ 5.4 million this year. Five Day staff members each earn at least $ 900,000.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made more than $ 9.3 million last year, according to USA Today, one of 10 coaches who made more than $ 6 million. Thirty-one head coaches earned at least $ 4 million, and 31 schools pay their staff of 10 assistants at least $ 4 million. If incomes go down – whether it’s because the seasons are shortened or because fans are reluctant to congregate in the stadiums – it seems clear where money could be saved. After all, $ 9.3 million goes a long way in Clemson, South Carolina. Ol ‘Dabo could get by, say, $ 4 million, right?
There are signs that this could be a consideration. Washington State has announced that its athletic director, soccer coach and men’s basketball coach will face 5% pay cuts by the end of the next academic year. It’s a step. There should be more.
Any return from a sport must relate to public health and safety. But if college football coaches and administrators seem a little desperate to organize a normal season in an abnormal world, it’s because they are.