SportsPulse: COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on much of the U.S. economy. How has it impacted college football coaches? According to our annual coaches compensation database, head coaches at power 5 conferences haven’t taken a a big hit.
While some college sports administrators are hoping that the large-scale financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a one-year proposition, an NCAA senior executive says the struggles probably will linger into 2023.
Chief medical officer Brian Hainline’s cautionary predictions about the future included making no assumptions that NCAA championships — including basketball’s Final Four — will be held as currently scheduled.
He also addressed prospects relating not only to athletics but also to higher education in general. He said 20% to 30% of the NCAA’s Division III schools may close entirely.
In addition, he indicated that — as in other parts of society — athletics programs that have the money to carry out COVID testing will be able to move forward while those that do not will have difficulty doing so. And while he hopes NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools will remain philosophically committed to maintaining the current minimum sport-sponsorship requirement of 16 teams (the requirement for Division I membership is 14), financial issues may prompt the membership to enact a reduction.
“It’s not going to be easy” for schools to maintain their current numbers of teams, Hainline said. “I mean, these economic realities are — they’re stark.”
NCAA member schools could face another two years or longer of financial uncertainty because of the pandemic, according to chief medical officer Brian Hainline. (Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)
Hainline’s comments came during a pre-recorded panel discussion presented Friday by the Aspen Institute as part of its annual Project Play Summit. The discussion was titled “Rethinking the ROI of Youth Sports,” as was aimed at the trend of colleges cutting teams due to impacts from the pandemic, what the future looks like and how that could affect athletes aspiring to play college sports.
Responding to a broad question about the future from Aspen Sports and Society Program executive director Tom Farrey, Hainline said: “There’s going to be a lot of challenges going forward with championships. So, there’s a revenue model there and the revenues are not coming in. But I think if we take a step back — and I think we need to — it’s not even about cutting sports. We’re probably at a place where 20% to 30% of Division III schools may not survive this pandemic. And that’s a whole other thing that we need to think seriously about.”
Asked more specifically to predict what may happen over the next five years, Hainline said: “Most of the financial projections — and it’s not just for the NCAA, it’s for schools, it’s for theater — is that things will probably start turning around in 2023. And so that seems like a long way away. And it really is.
“But, as a society, we’re going to be struggling to keep up over the next couple of years. … So, going back to the NCAA, hopefully we have a Final Four this year — and recall for the Final Four, most of it is just playing the game. When we play the game, you know, that takes care of the revenue for the broadcast and so forth.”
The NCAA depends on the men’s basketball tournament for nearly all of its annual revenue of roughly $1.1 billion, more than half of which gets distributed directly to Division I schools and conferences. In the wake of the cancellation of last season’s tournament, the NCAA reduced that distribution for 2020 by about $375 million to $225 million.
Hainline said that because the United States has not been able to develop national oversight of contact tracing or testing, “what’s happened is that those with more money have been able to carry things out because they can afford what testing is available and those without, they’re struggling.”
How that will manifest itself in schools’ ability to maintain their current varsity sports offerings remains to be seen.
Asked whether there will be pressure within the NCAA to lower sport-sponsorship minimums, Hainline said: “Well, there’s always going to be pressure, right? And so there’s two types of pressure: There is a pressure from the student-athletes and the parents and those voices that say you just can’t cut these sports because what’s the essence of who we are? And then there is sometimes the pressure of the athletic directors or the athletics department saying we just can’t fund anything.
“So it’s balancing pressures. And ultimately, then, you have the membership, which I think they understand the essence of the NCAA. It really is not about two sports (football and men’s basketball, the main revenue-generating sports) — it’s about 24 sports. So my hope is that that 24-sport vision is the one that prevails. And we understand if we’re going to really continue to be who we are and offering opportunities across the board, that that’s where it will land. It’s not going to be easy. I mean, these economic realities are — they’re stark.”