College athletics: Coronavirus fallout will alter the look
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College athletics soon will look vastly different. And the first evidence could come from the mid-majors.
In the wake of the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, the five Division I-A football conferences outside the Power 5 – the so-called Group of 5 that includes the American, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Mid-American leagues – have requested four-year relief from the NCAA on requirements for Division I membership.
Included in that request is a lessening on the minimum number of sports a school must sponsor.
The request, in a letter to NCAA president Mark Emmert, was made on behalf of all 350 Division I schools.
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NCAA rules require Division I members to sponsor at least 16 sports. Already in April, Cincinnati, of the American Conference, has dropped men’s soccer, and Old Dominion, of Conference USA, has dropped wrestling.
The mid-majors are facing an economic crisis fueled in part by the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournament. The mid-majors do not have the lucrative television contracts that in large part fund the huge athletic budgets of the Big 12, SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 conference members.
Even before the virus outbreak, cost concerns were prevalent in collegiate athletics. One Big 12 administrator told me months ago that cutting sports might soon be a consideration.
OU, for example, sponsors 19 sports: football, softball, baseball, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s wrestling, rowing and six sports with programs of both genders – basketball, cross-country, golf, gymnastics, tennis and track.
By contrast, the University of Texas, with an even larger athletic budget, sponsors 18 sports.
OSU sponsors 16 sports – football, softball, baseball, women’s soccer, women’s equestrian, men’s wrestling both men’s and women’s teams in basketball, tennis, golf, cross-country and track.
Yahoo and ESPN reported the Group of 5’s request. Those conference commissioners penned a letter that read in part, “As you are aware, the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant economic turmoil has resulted in the direst financial crisis for higher education since at least the Great Depression.”
The conferences seek “flexibility” into the difficult decisions that soon will come.
Other requests include relief on a minimum of 200 athletic scholarships per year or relief on at least $4 million spent in scholarship money, relief on providing at least 90 percent of the permissible scholarships in football over a two-year period (85 is the maximum allowed), and relief on averaging at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football games.
"Among the financial challenges being faced include significant decreases in state appropriations, substantial losses in endowment value, and a downturn in philanthropic activity,'' the letter read. "An already trying environment for enrollment is expected to see even more sizeable reductions, not to mention the continuing trend in deep reductions in the enrollment of international students. Finally, all of this is playing out with no ability to predict when normal operations might resume.''
Who knows how the NCAA will respond? Probably with a cooperative spirit. But either way, it doesn’t matter. The mid-majors figure to take some of these measures – dropping sports, cutting scholarships – even if it means ramifications from the NCAA. If the money’s not there, the money’s not there.