The decision whether to play college football should be about whether it is safe medically. It should not be about money and cutting sports because schools, at least schools in the Power 5 conferences, should have enough money.
The first six years of the College Football Playoff provided a $3.7 billion bonanza, but now part of the argument for playing is to have enough money to pay staff and maintain living standards for athletes. There won’t be enough money.
It went for million-dollar coaches. Not head coaches. Assistant coaches. It went for recruiting budgets in the millions, led by blank check master Kirby Smart, the head coach at Georgia. The extravagance at Clemson is a highlight of the spending orgy with bowling alley, pool tables, a slide, outdoor basketball court, miniature golf course, nap room, and more.
The $55 million Clemson football facility is one of many the big schools built with the CFP money. It means schools have debt service in the millions, but what the heck? The playoff money flowed.
“Revenue growth for big-time college football has been tremendous over the past decade, but rather than set aside reserve funds for emergencies like this, most programs have spent the additional money on excessive coaches’ salaries and expensive sports facilities,” Amy Perko, the CEO of The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, says. “That shortsighted approach has exacerbated the situation that these institutions find themselves in today.”
Some athletic departments, like Georgia, kept a reserve, and even gave some money to the university.
They need that money right now because whole athletic staffs are going to be furloughed, which includes stadium workers and other staff. Thousands of jobs are in jeopardy because many schools spent money as fast as they made it. Many coaches have taken pay cuts, though Georgia’s Smart is not among those yet. It’s true, Smart and mentor Nick Saban of Alabama give plenty to charity, but the optics suggest they roll back their salaries voluntarily.
Non-revenue sports will have to be cut, or downsized because so much money was spent by football. But football made the money? Yes, it did, but under the flag of the university. The athletic buildings, including the stadium, are on university property, in most cases. In other cases, fees help prop up the football program.
It is the ancillary football staff, not the higher athletic administration, that are going to be laid off for several months if the season goes into hibernation.
The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has an excellent data base for the public to look at to see where the money comes from and where it goes.
The public interest in the finances of college football started in 2012 when the Power 5 conferences signed the colossal 12-year deal with ESPN for about $7.3 billion. We all understood the brand was strong, but when the playoffs came along, the money was eye-opening. The inequities in the system have prompted a reckoning.
This being the 2020 season, hindsight is 20/20 and it suggests college football should have held more money in reserve. The decision whether to play, or cancel, would have been made easier today.