NCAA, Big 12 confront coronavirus-driven fiscal shortcomings and uncertainty to come

Tribune Content Agency

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Big 12 lost $6.6 million in revenue from canceling the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Kansas City earlier this month, and the conference could lose $15 million to $18 million worth of resources to distribute to its 10 members.

But although Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said he expects other sources of revenue will keep payments to member schools on track this year, “It’s whole new ballgame if we find ourselves not playing football.”

Bowlsby conducted a teleconference with reporters Thursday, two weeks to the day after most major conference tournaments, including the Big 12’s, were canceled due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The next day, the NCAA Tournament was canceled, too, and colleges scrambled to refigure their finances.

Without the money-making March Madness taking place this month into April, the NCAA announced it would reduce its direct distribution to Division I conferences and schools from $600 million to $225 million. The Big 12 typically would receive $24 million from that source to distribute. This year it will be about $10 million.

Other sources of revenue, including having a second team participate in the College Football Playoff and conference reserve fund, should bring league distribution to about $40 million per school this year. Last year, the league’s total revenue to schools was $37.4 million.

“For some schools that’s about half of their athletic budget, for others that’s about 20 percent,” Bowlsby said. “It’s not an equal situation.

“But how much we spread the pain and how long the pain lasts is another matter altogether.”

And if the college football season was disrupted or — in a worst-case scenario, canceled — the financial ramifications would be huge.

“It affects everything we do,” Bowlsby said. “It affects the largest part of our TV contract, the largest source of campus revenue, which is live gate. Anything I say regarding finances has to make the assumption we’ll be back to playing football in the fall.

“If that doesn’t happen, the underpinning of what we’ve known as normal goes away and we’ll have major changes to make.”

For now, Bowlsby and the conference aren’t considering those changes, or sharing what they might be. League meetings that will happen by teleconference are scheduled for May.

But he does think about fall sports in different way. Spring football isn’t happening, and preparation by athletes for the 2020 fall season would have to be explored the longer schools aren’t in session and teams aren’t allowed to gather together.

“It used to be football players took a season off or played another sport,” Bowlsby said. “These days kids train seven days a week, 365 days a year and just can’t turn it on and off. … I think there would be a couple of weeks of a transitioning period.”


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