As league commissioners and university presidents nationwide scramble to find an efficient and safe way to return students to the classrooms and fans to the stands, the California State University system waived the white flag early. Chancellor Timothy White announced that his 23-school system would be closed through the fall semester. Under NCAA President Mark Emmert’s jurisdiction, no students on campus means no sports; this means FBS programs like Fresno State, San Diego State, and San Jose State will be without football this season.
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson now faces a massive challenge without three of his conference members. Do their opponents win by forfeit? Do these games just get removed from the schedule?
While nothing has been officially declared, USC’s fall status has massive implications nationally, including whether or not they will be able to open the season against Alabama at AT&T Stadium. Paul Finebaum reported that Alabama administrators were opening up talks with TCU (who opens their season against Cal) about replacing USC in that game. While both ADs have said they plan on playing their currently-scheduled opponents, the possibility that both are planning for the worst is very real.
The world of college football — and sports wagering — continues to act as though the world continues to spin, and DraftKings Sportsbook still has lines up for Alabama-USC. The amount already wagered on this game is unknown, but DraftKings has certainly taken action.
The Crimson Tide currently sit as modest 14-point favorites over the Trojans, and the game will likely be the ratings hog of its time slot and possibly the most-wagered game of the week. Replacing USC’s massive fanbase with TCU would have massive negative implications on both the betting of the game and the viewership. The Horned Frogs finished just 5-7 in 2019– likely no match for championship-ready Alabama.
The impact on universities
College football as a whole is on a precarious perch, waiting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out throughout the summer and if there is a possibility of another spike in the fall. The balance between keeping the public safe and covering seasonal costs is delicate (as many have noticed).
For the SEC, this is a more than $720 million decision; for the Big Ten, nearly $760 million. Come hell or high water, these conferences will have some form of football to play come the fall. For schools like Bowling Green, Southern Miss, and Louisiana Tech, the decision not to play football will cost them around only $20 million (albeit, still a substantial chunk of the school’s annual revenue).
The rumor that college football could return with only regional or conference play has been thrown around by several sources. For the above schools, conference-only play would erase several big paydays that so often pay for a major chunk of the athletic department’s total expenses. Ohio State paid Miami (OH) $1.3 million to play in Columbus last season– 14% of Miami’s total football revenue and 3.4% of the total athletic revenue for 2019. BGSU is slated to play in Columbus week 1, meaning the Falcons could be missing out on that $1.3 million-plus payday.
The impact on sports betting
On a larger national scale, millions of dollars are wagered annually on college football — much of which is dealt during bowl season and the College Football Playoff. Without interconference play, bowl season is a fantasy (although the CFP could happen with locked down testing, isolated players and staff, no fans, etc.).
As sports betting grows exponentially in popularity, states could see huge losses without marquee games like the CFP National Championship. In 2019, sports betting in October alone made up over 2% of Nevada’s total annual budget.
As states continue to slowly reopen, optimism seems to reign king among many collegiate athletic directors. With so much money hanging in the balance, it seems that the commissioners and administrators will be fighting to have some sort of season, whether it be with or without fans. For some schools, a college football season could be the deciding factor on keeping or cutting programs altogether.
To the public, this season means money wagered and daily entertainment. To schools and states, it means jobs and the future of their programs. If football does return this fall, expect it to look very different.