New study: Cancellation of the 2020 college football season could cost Power Five schools $4 billion

·4 min read

We now have more evidence that the cancellation of the 2020 college football season could cost schools more than $4 billion.

According to a Washington University report commissioned by ESPN, schools in the Power Five conferences could lose in the neighborhood of $4 billion if football isn’t played in 2020. And that doesn’t even factor in the money that schools in the Group of Five conferences would lose. The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC are comprised of 65 teams, or half the number of teams that play at the top level of college football.

From ESPN:

[Patrick] Rishe estimates that the 65 Power 5 schools would collectively lose more than $4 billion in football revenues, with at least $1.2 billion of that due to lost ticket revenue. Each Power 5 school would see at least an average loss of $62 million in football revenue, including at least $18.6 million in football ticket sales, he said.

Rishe's analysis for ESPN used publicly available data from the 2017 season from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the 2018 Equity in Athletics Database from the U.S. Department of Education, along with conservative projections of increases in revenue over the past two years to arrive at 2020 estimates if the U.S. were not in the midst of a pandemic. Rishe's projected losses are actually conservative; they don't include potential losses in media revenue, conference distributions, donations and revenues from corporate partnerships.

The $4 billion figure produced by the Washington University report is very similar to the figure produced by a USA Today study in April.

It’s been glaringly obvious why schools and conferences are pushing to have a college football season and the $4 billion figure provides even more context to why a football season has to happen in some form or fashion in the minds of college sports leaders. Football and basketball revenue prop up athletic departments across the country and we’ve already seen schools take a financial hit from the NCAA’s upcoming reduced payout to members in the wake of the canceled basketball tournaments.

ESPN would take a significant hit if there was no college football season either. The network has a stake in the SEC and ACC Networks, along with the Big 12’s ESPN+ streaming service, and pays billions for college football rights. Its fall programming is largely centered around football games. The network has scrambled to fill programming voids over the last two months amid the coronavirus pandemic and would have to scramble even more if there were no college football games to show starting in September.

Voluntary workouts may start June 1

The NCAA’s Division I Council voted Wednesday to allow schools to begin voluntary workouts in June for football and basketball players. Those workouts will likely begin on a conference-by-conference and state-by-state basis. Conferences will have to vote to lift in-person activity moratoriums while individual schools will have to abide by state social distancing guidelines.

The council also said that schools will have more flexibility to schedule opponents if they have to scramble to add games to their schedules this season. While no schools have officially said they won’t hold a football season this year, it’s a non-zero possibility that at least one of the 130 schools at the top level of college football wouldn’t play in 2020.

At the moment, it seems like most schools will end up playing football in some fashion, though it remains to be seen if any teams will be able to have fans in the stands at home games. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Wednesday that the school has looked at scenarios involving home games with socially distanced fans. In one scenario, Smith said, the school could have approximately 20,000 fans inside the 100,000-seat Ohio Stadium.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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