A combination of health and legal risks have led to smaller college conferences to cancel their fall football seasons. But it looks like the Power 5 is up next.
Two conferences, the Big 10 and Pac-12, are rumored to announce the cancelations of their seasons on Tuesday. It is unclear whether or not the season will be moved to the spring. But it’s certainly a possibility.
Before the Power 5 report, the coronavirus was teaching us what conferences can afford to play football this year.
Athletic directors and conference administrators in the MAC, SWAC, Patriot League, and others may care about the health and safety of student-athletes, but they also care about the cash football can bring in.
If FCS and some FBS schools can’t sell tickets and don’t get their due for participating in non-conference, Power 5 games, is hosting a college football season financially worth the health risk?
For an increasing number of conferences, the answer is no.
Conference press releases about canceling football contain phrases like “putting the players first” and “prioritizing health and safety.” Of course, these are acceptable reasons to punt on football in a pandemic. But athletic departments won’t mention the financial decisions that likely drove to canceling football, especially if that college football conference or program does not generate Power 5 revenue.
The “astronomical” amount of money needed to properly test, trace and house athletes could be too much for smaller programs to spend.
Power 5 conferences with national television deals, however, could see the cost as a necessary impediment to play, not an insurmountable burden.
Unsurprisingly, the decisions made by some conferences will likely expand the chasm between Power 5 schools and everyone else. That is, if Power 5 schools play.
But there’s a foreseeable legal battle awaiting every college, big and small, that allows fall sports and, in turn, athletes, to become infected. Infectious disease experts and cardiologists are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential of lasting heart complications for athletes who contract the virus.
Would a school be liable if a student-athlete develops health problems after getting COVID? Uhh.. yeah. It’s a question that must have paralyzed athletic departments and university administrators, including one in the Power 5.
Over the weekend, two Power 5 athletic directors called canceling the 2020 season “inevitable.” Another source called the 2020 college football season “done” after the Mid-Atlantic Conference decision.
If these power conferences elect to cancel their seasons, it will not be because of financial concerns. It will be because Power 5 players are becoming increasingly outspoken or, as recent reporting suggests, the wave of conferences opting out of football will encourage top programs to call the fall.