PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – APRIL 29
By Leo Haggerty

BIG FINANCIAL DIVIDE BETWEEN COLLEGE AND PRO FOOTBALL

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

After the successful completion of the 2020 National Football League Draft, that was witnessed by around 55 million viewers during some portion of the three-day extravaganza, fans all over the globe are waiting with rabid anticipation of the return of professional football.  With equal fervor, people who follow the exploits of their favorite college team on the gridiron are looking forward to the start of NCAA football season as well.

Normally, the college schedule would begin the last week in August with the pro game kicking off their season the week after Labor Day in early September.  Sadly, these are far from normal times and those dates may be extremely difficult to achieve.

There is one humongous difference between college football as opposed to the professional version.  Frankly, that gap is strictly monetary and let me explain my rationale on that statement.

The NFL, due to its lucrative television contracts, can afford to play games early in the season with no fans in attendance.  Granted, the owners will not see as large of a profit margin as they have realized in the past but they will never lose money.

How is that possible, you ask?  All player salaries are covered by television revenue that the NFL receives and then distributes equally to it’s 32 franchises.  That’s the amount that makes up the league’s salary cap that all teams must adhere to or face league retribution.

So, the rest of the expenses of each franchise is covered by gate receipts and other revenue related to fan attendance.  The more fans show up to contests equates to more money the owner makes.

As you can plainly see, the NFL is the golden goose when it comes to profits for owners.   The mantra for any owner has to be if you win, they will come and I make more money. Cha-ching, cha-ching.

On the other hand, colleges and university depend on the revenue generated by their football programs to fund the majority of their intercollegiate sports programs.  Literally, it’s the engine that drives the athletic bus.

Let me give an example.  At one of the Outback Bowl Signing Party press conferences, I once asked a couple of athletic directors, who will remain anonymous because their answer was “off the record” so to speak, how many home games they needed to “cover their athletic department nut.”  One told me seven and, every fourth year, they need an eighth contest either at home or a neutral site where there was shared revenue.

The second AD, when asked the same question, told me definitely seven every year.  When I asked how much revenue does just ticket sales bring in, and never expecting an answer, he volunteered $4 million a game and this was close to a decade ago.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, that’s just getting into the stadium.  Not included in that amount are funds raised from parking and concessions plus memorabilia as well as programs that go to fund other programs especially the non-revenue ones.

College football doesn’t have the luxury of playing any games at empty stadiums.  The lost revenue that school will experience would never be recovered.

So, what are the options for university athletic administrators?  I see two possible scenarios.

First, the beginning of the season can be moved back to an October, or even early November, start date when fans could attend.  That would allow for a regular twelve-game season, that normally takes 13 or 14 weeks to conclude, to finish sometime in mid-January to mid-February.  School would be able to reap all the financial benefits of a complete season.

The one advantage football has over all the other sports, with maybe the exception of basketball, is that it can be played at any time during the calendar year.  Baseball can’t be played in the winter and hockey cannot be played in the summer.

I think it would be kind of neat to see the Wisconsin-Minnesota tilt for Paul Bunyan’s Ax be played in January with a foot of snow all around the stadium.  Or the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn being played in near freezing temperatures.

The second option for the NCAA is to begin the season in empty stadiums.  That would only be a possibility if television networks were willing to pay higher rights fees until fans are allowed to return.  This could offset the monetary shortfall and permit college football to ramp up close to, if not exactly, on the anticipated start date.

What I am failing to fathom is that the NCAA has not come out and said that they are working on possible solutions to a delayed opening of the collegiate football campaign which everyone expects.  That’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room and he’s starting to get agitated.

Memo to Mark Emmert who is the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.  It’s time to get out in front of this possibility of a delayed start to the season and let the public know what to expect now.

Waiting until the summer will be too late.  Hey, NCAA and Mr. Emmert, get proactive and not wait to be reactive.  That would be the smart thing to do.