College Sports Dread The Potential Loss Of Their Big Moneymaker: Football

Apr 10, 2020
Originally published on April 10, 2020 5:25 pm
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The coronavirus has put athletic events on hold and interrupted the flow of money that makes sports such a big business. College sports are trying to deal with the shortfall and dreading what happens if the shutdown affects the big money-maker - football. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The shock of the NCAA canceling college sports largely is gone. The cost is not. Santino Morina, a 20-year-old wrestler at Old Dominion University in Virginia, felt it last week when he got an emergency email.

SANTINO MORINA: Urgent news - we need to have a team meeting online at 4:30.

GOLDMAN: The news was bad. Because of financial issues, ODU was ending its 63-year-old wrestling program.

MORINA: It was April 2, so I was like, oh, it's probably just an April Fool's joke. And then the more they started talking to us, the more I realized, like, this is no joke. Like, this is for real. Like, the coaches were getting emotional and stuff.

GOLDMAN: This month the NCAA was going to start distributing about $600 million to its Division I member schools, like Old Dominion. But with the cash cow men's basketball tournament canceled along with spring championships, the figure plummeted to 225 million. It helped seal ODU wrestling's fate and left athletic departments everywhere scrambling. Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard announced many in his department are taking pay cuts. On a conference call, Pollard said it could get much worse.

JAMIE POLLARD: We're probably in a phase right now that we're in a long, hard winter. But if we can't play football this fall, I mean, it's ice age time.

GOLDMAN: Two years ago Forbes reported college football's 25 most valuable teams generated a combined $2.5 billion a year in revenue. A lot of that goes to college sports that don't make money and to cash-hungry opponents.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER: On sidelines - 49 points, the most that Florida State has posted all season long.

GOLDMAN: When Florida State thumped Alabama State last year 49-12 in a game broadcast by Fox Sports, the losing team got what it wanted - a reported $425,000. It was a guarantee game, where a lesser team usually endures a pummeling at the hands of a major program for big bucks. Alabama State athletic director Jennifer Lynne Williams worries altering this football season will mean no guarantee games pumping money into her school's general fund.

JENNIFER LYNNE WILLIAMS: It will definitely impact our budget, how we move forward, how we support our non-revenue-generating sports. Everything can be affected.

GOLDMAN: College athlete advocates worry the money crunch on schools will hurt their ability to provide athletes with medical coverage and athletic scholarships. Santino Morina, the now former Old Dominion wrestler, used his scholarship so he could go to ODU instead of community college. If he can keep wrestling and get scholarship help at another D1 school, he'll take the opportunity. But he says if it's not there financially, he'll be a student without the athlete part. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.