ATHENS — College sports commissioners told Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday that students will need to return to campus before their respective football programs can start up again, per an Associated Press report.
“(We) made the point we were concerned and wanted to get back to having kids attending college and opening up our colleges and universities,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told the AP.
“That until that happened, we weren’t going to be having any sports.”
The coronavirus pandemic has brought much of society to a standstill. Social distancing and quarantines have become a part of daily life while scientists and doctors race to find treatments, cures and a vaccine.
Timetables and money
Collegiate sports are dealing with an economic timetable of sorts. Football drives the revenue train on campuses across the country. The start of the season, on Labor Day weekend, is fast approaching.
Roughly 75 to 90 percent of major college athletics budgets is made up of revenue from football ticket sales, television package money (via conference distribution) and football-related donations.
Only 41 percent of Power 5 schools have a financial reserve, and at the Group of 5 level, the number dips to 26 percent, per IMG data.
The University of Cincinnati announced on Tuesday it was dropping its men’s soccer program in what appears to be a sign of things to come. Old Dominion has also cut wrestling.
Without football money rolling in, many non-revenue sports will not survive at schools that lack athletics reserves.
School presidents and league commissioners, however, have made it clear the health and welfare of student-athletes takes priority over financial concerns.
“We will not determine the timeline, the virus will determine the timeline,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said last week, quoting Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute on Allergies and Infectious Diseases.
“We’re going to rely exactly on our public health officials, at the national levels, state levels, and around our campuses and communities, to guide us toward a return to what we have known as normal.”
College athletics’ complications
Sankey, conspicuous by the absence of comments from him on Wednesday, appeared on the SEC Network last week to provide an update on how collegiate leadership was moving forward.
As much as anything, Sankey stressed the fluid nature of the situation and pointed out there’s still a long time before decisions need to be made.
The bits and pieces that came out of Wednesday’s call, however, bring added urgency and concern.
The College Football Playoff management committee, which is made up of the 10 league commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, had sought to provide clarity to the Vice President in the 30-minute conference call.
American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said the committee shared the unique nature of collegiate sports.
“We were able to talk about the differences between us and professional sports,” American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco said in the AP report. “We talked about how academics and college athletics were inseparable.”
Further, Aresco told the USA Today the message was sent that, “We don’t have czars. We’re a national enterprise, but we’ll have local issues as we go forward.”
A different look
Indeed, for while college athletics and academics might be inseparable, conferences might not be.
Could there be a football season with some conferences playing, but not others?
“We talked a little about whether there would be a national policy because, obviously, if governors have different policies you’re going to have some issues,” Aresco said.
“If California isn’t allowing football and Ohio is that’s going to be issue for what is obviously a national enterprise.”
And, even if class is in session by the fall semester across the nation, and football season kicks off, there might not be fans in the stands.
Fauci said earlier on Wednesday that in his vision sports can return sooner than later if “nobody comes to the stadium.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart indicated last week on the SEC Network he didn’t foresee playing games without fans as a long-term solution.
“If it happened as a one-off, or as a one-time special scenario, which we saw happen a little bit there in basketball and we thought it might be that way,” Smart said in an interview with ESPN host Laura Rutledge last Thursday.
“But to look at it as a long-term or even a season answer, I just think that’s tough. Not that we play just for the fans, but we certainly are there to entertain, and it certainly affects the kids in their performance.”
Swarbrick is vehemently opposed to playing games without fans on hand, and he cautioned against a premature return to action.
“That’s the worst version of this: getting started and [having to] stop,” Swarbrick told CBSsports.com reporter Dennis Dodd. “This is all about, [it] sort of begins and ends with bringing our students back to campus,.
“It’s just hard to figure out how you can say, ‘We believe the campus isn’t safe for our student body, and oh, we’re going to bring one group of students back.'”
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said after the call that the CFP semifinals (Jan. 1, New Orleans and Pasadena, Calif.) and the CFP Championship Game (Jan. 11, Miami) remain on schedule.