It has been just over a month since the cancellation of SEC sports due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there is still no sure timeline on when or how they will return.
As the main revenue generator for college athletics, the status of the 2020 college football season is the biggest question on the minds of sports fans. While no decision has been made, there has been some discussion regarding possible outcomes.
In an April 8 interview on “The Paul Finebaum Show,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey quoted a statement from Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the national coronavirus task force.
“You don’t make the timeline. The virus makes the timeline,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
While it is still too early to make a decision regarding the start of the football season, Sankey said the decision will take into account information from a variety of sources.
“You can see the developing information just knowing what we know about science, how rapidly knowledge can develop; there are still unknowns,” Sankey said. “We’re gonna rely on our public health officials and the people around our campuses and communities to guide us to return to what we’ve known as normal.”
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said it’s not clear who will make the final decision regarding the start of A&M’s football season.
“It may be the county health official; it may be the governor, [President Donald] Trump wants to leave it up to the governors of each state,” Bjork said in a teleconference on April 21. “There's not one single source at this point that’s going to say, ‘Okay, on this date everyone returns’ because it is somewhat of a moving target.”
The 2020 football season may not look “normal.” There have been talks of playing games without fans in the stadium, of pushing back the start of the season until things have returned to normal or even canceling the season altogether.
“We’re in unprecedented times; we may have to do unprecedented things,” A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher said in an April 8 interview with the Paul Finebaum Show.
Fisher said while not ideal, he would be open to playing in Kyle Field without the 12th Man if it meant maintaining the revenue from television contracts while keeping the public and his team safe.
“You don’t want to do that, but we have to be willing to do everything,” Fisher said. “It’s not just football at stake; it’s basketball, baseball, women’s sports, all the spring sports, all the Olympic sports. There’s a lot of bills that are paid through those TV contracts.”
In 2019, A&M topped Forbes’ list of the most valuable football programs after averaging $147 million in revenue and a $94 million profit from 2016 to 2018. According to Forbes, an average of 29 percent of college football programs’ revenue comes from television contracts.
“Football is a market that drives everything in college sports, and it pays for everything, so we have that responsibility,” Fisher said. “We may not be able to get the full value of it, but if you only get the TV contracts, I don’t know the answer.”
Due to budget concerns, some other schools have already cut some sports programs. The University of Cincinnati has eliminated men’s soccer, Old Dominion cut its wrestling team and St. Edward’s University has eliminated five programs (men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf and men’s soccer) and moved its cheer team to club sport status.
Bjork said A&M is not in danger of doing that right now, because the budget for the school year ends on Aug. 31, which is later than many schools.
“Most universities I’ve ever been at, the fiscal year ends on June 30,” Bjork said. “We have a couple more months to really crystalize our planning and our operations. We have not put that on the table. We don’t anticipate putting that on the table.”
Some coaches have also felt the repercussions of those budget cuts. On April 21, Boise State furloughed all of its coaches.
“The first thing you want to do is protect your people, and that’s what we would look to do,” Bjork said. “We haven’t had that conversation at the university level, and that’s where it would have to start.”
In the meantime, Bjork said the focus is on creating a budget plan for various possible situations that could result from the pandemic. Regardless of what happens, Bjork said A&M will have to tighten its budget.
“We’re going to have less revenue than we had last year, just given the economics of our environment,” Bjork said. “Then you have a mid-tier budget where maybe you’re not playing games with fans in the stands, and that would cause some dramatic cuts and things like that. Then you have the worst-case scenario, and it’s really too early to map out what that looks like.”
In the midst of the uncertainty regarding the start of the 2020 football season, Fisher’s message to his team is simple.
“Don't worry about things you can’t control. We don’t know, no one knows,” Fisher said. “If you went on a walk to find an answer and you kept walking and walking and walking, it’s never going to be there.”
While he doesn’t know when the season will start, Fisher said he and his team must prepare for any possible outcome.
“We have to plan on being ready when June 1 kicks off, if we can train or whatever,” Fisher said. “And knowing that it may or may not be there. That’s the only thing you can do. Be safe, and don’t try to answer something there’s not an answer to.”
Competition will eventually resume, and Fisher said even though there isn’t a timeline for that yet, it is important for players to continue training as best they can.
“Whoever manages this time the best will have a distinct advantage when things get kicked off,” Fisher said.
Regardless of how or when it happens, Fisher said the fall sports can provide a sort of healing to the world upon their return.
“Sports are always something that pulls us together,” Fisher said. “When we come off of big tragedies and things that are going on now, sports are a big part of our country and I think we realized that when it hit. They’re things that bond us together, pull us together.”