In expressing why it is vital to attempt to play football in the fall, Pollard revealed the financial hit Iowa State — both the athletic department and the university itself — will take if there are no fall sports in 2020. The athletic department “would incur approximately $40 million in unfunded expenses in the next six months” while the university’s revenue loss for its educational fund for the 2021 fiscal year “is more than $41 million,” Pollard said.
On top of that, Pollard said the total revenue losses and costs at Iowa State “since the start of COVID-19 through Aug. 23, 2020 are estimated to be an additional $73 million.”
“I feel it is imperative and timely to clarify the reasons why we are doing everything in our power to try and safely play college sports this fall,” Pollard wrote. “Some people have incorrectly framed the issue as safety versus revenue generation. The simple fact is that reality lies somewhere in the middle.”
Pollard said safety is ISU’s top priority but acknowledged that the revenue that comes from football — television contracts, most notably — is crucial “to sustain long-term operations.” Pollard also noted that the financial challenges would trickle down to the local Ames community that depends on outside visitors to ISU athletic events “for their economic survival.”
“If those revenues decrease dramatically or are eliminated, we will have unfunded financial obligations. The remedies to having unfunded financial obligations are significant and would require us to explore options that may include operational reductions or eliminations, layoffs, and even elimination of sport programs,” Pollard wrote.
‘Serious health considerations’
With the massive scope of financial losses, Iowa State and other universities are moving forward in an effort to safely hold a football season. Pollard knows it’s going to be an extremely daunting — and risky — venture.
“We understand there are serious health considerations that are implicated by moving forward with sports,” Pollard said. “However, we are confident that our department can provide a safer environment for the athletes in Ames, where they are motivated by their teammates and competition to modify their social behavior.”
Pollard also addressed the idea of moving fall sports to the spring, saying the task of enduring additional months of operational costs would be another difficult hurdle.
“Some people have suggested that we should simply play fall sports in the spring when the challenges of COVID-19 could be reduced,” Pollard wrote. “Unfortunately, there are no guarantee things will improve in the spring and there are numerous hurdles to overcome. The most-significant challenge is committing another six months of operational costs (roughly $40M in our case) for the fall semester with no revenues to cover those expenses.”
Since the football team returned to campus in early June, Iowa State has reported three positive COVID-19 cases among the 160 players and staff tested. But other FBS programs have not been able to contain the virus as well as the Cyclones. Schools like Clemson, North Carolina, Maryland and Texas have had to stop workouts in recent weeks due to a significant number of positive tests.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten and Pac-12 have announced their plans to implement a conference-only schedule for football this fall. The other Power Five conferences — the ACC, Big 12 and SEC — are still evaluating their options.
Even after the Big Ten and Pac-12 made that move, optimism among decision-makers about the season’s fate is dwindling.
“Right now, I don’t see a path in the current environment to how we play,” a Power Five athletic director told Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel. “I’m confident we’ll get back to what we all think of as normal, but it may be a year before that happens.”
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