College Football Coaches Bracing for the Worst

By Sabin, Rainer; Solari, Chris | The Topeka Capital-Journal, April 6, 2020 | Go to article overview

College Football Coaches Bracing for the Worst


Sabin, Rainer, Solari, Chris, The Topeka Capital-Journal


There is a silver lining somewhere, and Paul Winters has found it.

The Wayne State football coach may have lost spring practice, but he has already tackled the work he usually reserves for June and July.

In some ways, he said, “I will be better prepared for a season than I ever have.”

That is if there is one.

As the novel coronavirus has rocked the country and shut down the sports world, there is growing anxiety within college athletics about the prospect of football not being played in 2020. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit sounded the alarm late last month during an appearance on the network’s radio outlet, saying he’d be “shocked” if there was a season.

Administrators around the country are bracing for empty stadiums and zero games, fretting about a substantial decline in revenue if this doomsday scenario materializes.

Here in Michigan, the uncertainty is palpable. The Free Press attempted to survey 21 colleges and universities that have NCAA football programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Division II or III — polling athletic directors, communications representatives and head coaches about whether they think a season will be played and whether it should go forward.

Only six of the 19 who responded believed the 2020 season would take place, with one of them adding there could be a delay. Just five asserted it should be held, with one noting that the decision should be made based on the nation's disease status. The other institutions refused to speculate, declined to comment or couldn’t be reached.

Nobody surveyed expressed outright pessimism about a fall without football — perhaps because the mere thought of it is too distressing. Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee, who is hopeful the games will go on, hinted at that.

“Not playing football,” he said, “would be devastating. It’s a huge driver for us. This past year, outside of NCAA distributions, all of our revenue is hinged on football. We worked hard to get close to $7 million in ticket sales and game guarantees, sponsorship rights and MAC distribution payout. You don’t play those games, all of that goes away.”

According to a survey of more than 100 FBS athletic directors published Thursday by LEAD1 Association and Teamworks, 35% of the respondents are projecting at least a 30% drop in revenue in 2020-21 in a worst-case scenario — a gaping void in the calendar left by the absence of football.

It could be even more.

At Michigan, Jim Harbaugh’s program accounted for nearly 70% of the $175 million revenue the athletic department generated in 2018-2019, according to records obtained by the Free Press.

The thought of the school’s 107,000-seat stadium unoccupied throughout the fall is hard to fathom, and the financial implications tied to such a situation are serious.

Without a season, Michigan's net loss for football alone could approach $100 million, according to a USA TODAY analysis, which did not account for any potential recovery of coaching salaries or scholarship relief if athletes aren't on campus in the fall. For Michigan State, the estimated loss could reach $60 million.

But there are other considerations that must be addressed, according to head coach Leonard Haynes of Division II Northwood University.

“The lives of the student-athletes are more important than a game,” he said. “Of course, we want to play, but not at the expense of these players and coaches. …

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