It was expected.
When armed protestors demanded that their state leaders end the lockdowns, it was an indicator. Every time a clip of an adult throwing a tantrum because they didn’t want to wear a mask in public was posted to social media, it was a sign. And when schools like Ohio State made players and parents sign “pledges” for football workouts during a global pandemic to avoid responsibility if anybody got sick, you just knew this moment was on the horizon.
The Big Ten and the PAC-12 will not be playing football this calendar year, according to reports. The ACC, SEC, Big 12, and every other college football conference will soon fall in line. Saturdays in the fall will be desolate, as football in the spring feels like it could be the earliest for the sport to return. But even then, it’s tricky, given that players would have to play two full seasons in a calendar year, and draft prospects may sit out due to the number of risks involved.
But never fear, college basketball is here.
So far, North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas — the bluebloods — have their men’s basketball teams on campus, and some have even started summer workouts. They’re all preparing for a season without knowing if there will be one.
To some, a season that runs from November to April might still sound doable. But to those people, I’d remind them that in March we all thought this would be over by now.
And to prove I’m not a sportswriter cheering against sports, college basketball has two things on its side that college football didn’t: The NCAA’s bank account and the WNBA/NBA’s bubble.
According to Yahoo! Finance, in 2016-17 almost 75 percent of the record-breaking $1 billion the NCAA made that year came from its basketball tournament. That spectacle alone now brings in an estimated $933 million. College football puts money into the schools’ pockets and serves as the NCAA’s most popular sport, as it’s been reported that major college football programs could now lose billions. It’s hard to make money when all those seats in a football stadium sit empty. But when it comes to loading up the NCAA’s bank account, that’s basketball’s job.
Since this year’s tournament was canceled, a report from USA Today estimated that the NCAA would only have about $654 million in revenue and approximately $668 million in expenses in fiscal 2020. Add that to the fact that an April report from the Washington Post discovered that in 2015 new NCAA leadership spent more than $400 million of the $500 million that had been saved over the years without increasing the NCAA’s insurance coverage.
The NCAA’s “rainy day” fund isn’t what it should be, which is why you can bet that they aren’t going without their biggest moneymaker – the tournament – in consecutive years.
There also aren’t any examples of what football, of any kind, looks like during a global pandemic. However, we do know that basketball can be played if done the right way. Last week, the NBA announced that there were zero positive tests of the 343 players in the bubble. The WNBA followed that up with zero cases out of their 139 players.
The WNBA and NBA bubbles are working, and since we know college athletics are a business, it makes sense to believe that the powers that be in college basketball are somewhere trying to figure out how to create a bubble of their own, a place where students can practice, play and take classes remotely. Especially since the NCAA is financially motivated to make the tournament, in some form or fashion, take place.
Or, I could be wrong and we could be without collegiate sports for another year or so.
But, I wouldn’t bet on that.
This is America, where money trumps everything.