College Football in Fall 2020
I think one of the biggest indicators of whether or not there will be fall on campus classes at four-year colleges is whether or not colleges can provide students something other than just go to class and stay in your dorm room. And for many of the large public universities what that means more than anything else in the fall is college football. College football is not just a big deal for the campus community, but for the local college communities as well. Particularly in the Southeast, ACC, Big 10 and Big 12 conferences football is akin to a religion. Stadiums, some seating 110,000+ fans are small cities on game days in the fall.
And it’s not just about inside the stadium. When I was a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville although the stadium seated over 100,000 fans, it was estimated that as much as double that number were in town on game day. Mostly this was fro the pre-game festivities, the unofficial and official pre-game parties known as tailgating.
These tailgate parties fill up parking lots, take over restaurants and bars. With all of those people coming to town you can imagine all of the sources of revenue involved in game day. With hundreds of thousands of people buying tickets, college merchandise, groceries for tailgating, drinks for tailgating, parking fees, restaurant attendance after the game, bar attendance after game as well as full hotels and lots and lots of gasoline for all of that driving, a lot of money is spent. According to an article in the Knoxville News Sentinel, a firm estimated that in 2016 the financial impact on Knox County from the college football season was over $355 million dollars.
So you don’t need to go any further than the financial impact on college’s, their athletic programs and local communities to understand why colleges are so reluctant to cancel their football seasons. It is also why once you see fall football seasons being canceled, you’ll know that likely fall on campus classes aren’t going to happen. So far the Ivy League is the biggest division one conference to do so. And honestly, the Ivy League is far from a premier level football conference in America, and those schools are known primarily for things other than big time sports.
College football is big money, and many smaller schools get their fingers into the Division I big time football money pie by playing away games to lose. Sometimes these schools can make upwards of a million dollars to play and almost certainly lose to a big time school. These games can be a big piece of the budget for mid-level schools. It has been estimated that the Power 5 schools could lose up to four billion dollars if their season is cancelled.
It will likely be tempting for some big time sports schools to consider keeping football on tap even if the campuses shutdown in terms of face to face classes. Even the discussion of this idea brings up a huge potential issue for the NCAA. If we are willing to even consider having student athletes perform while we aren’t willing to have non-athlete students on campuses, we’re all but admitting that the primary focus for these students is athletics, not academics. That admission would likely be the last nail in the coffin for the idea of the student athlete. Which will likely increase the call for college athletes to be paid, finally acknowledging that college football and basketball are quasi professional sports and not an activity college students happen to participate in while getting a college degree. Which is the reason that the NCAA president has come out and said, “there can be no college football without college classes on campus.” Because if college athletes get paid, the NCAA would take a massive financial hit.
Below is a list of articles concerning the status of many of the big football conferences and a nice discussion about the challenges going forward by a couple of former college athletic directors.