What does COVID-19 mean for college and high school sports?

Monday, July 27, 2020

The novel coronavirus pandemic means that college and high school sports will be facing a lot of uncertainty this Fall.

High school and colleges across the nation have become household namesakes based on their athletic programs. High schools and colleges with the most popular sports teams are often more known by name for their teams than their academic goals, although that is not to say that these education institutions do not also feature star academics.

Similarly, to the approach to the Fall 2020 semester, colleges are taking the time to carefully plan for the sports season ahead. The coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in a sudden shift to online learning and remote instruction in the Spring semester, has also forced education administrators to carefully plan how the fall semester should go moving forward. Colleges have also had to make plans for sports programs.

The Ivy League college athletic conference has simply decided to postpone fall sports with a full cancellation. The Big Ten Conference universities have decided that members will play only teams within the conference while mandating strict testing for these athletes.

Other conferences continue to deliberate as the fall approaches.

College administrators are making it up as they go along. NCAA guidelines for returning to athletic competitions include the following:

  • Emphasis on daily self-health checks
  • Use of face coverings and social distancing during training
  • Regular coronavirus testingAdherence to community health standards

What does the pandemic mean for college football?

Many athletic programs at several schools across the U.S. are attributed largely to profits generated by football. Richard M. Southall, a professor at the University of South Carolina and director of the College Sport Research Institute and author of multiple textbooks on sports management, shared with U.S. News, “It’s pretty obvious now that the purpose of football on the Division I level, the Power Five level, is to generate revenue.”

Many of the biggest programs in college sports do just that. U.S. News cites a USA Today financial breakdown of college athletics incomes and expenditures across all sports. The University of Texas—Austin raked in $223 million in total during the 2018-19 school year, making their program the top-earning athletic program in the country. Texas A&M University—College Station earned $213 million and Ohio State University—Columbus earned $210 million.

Revenue is a huge driver. It is the reason why many colleges and universities are hesitating when it comes to deciding for the fall semester. With so much revenue related to TV deals, college football season may kick off even if stadiums have to be kept empty. This could give athletic departments the chance to earn up to more than $1 million per game to play against top-tier teams.

With a number of these games cancelled as schools go conference only, it can be rest assured that large holes will appear in the athletic budgets. It can be no surprise that COVID-19’s effects have gone on so far as to affect athletic department planning and budgeting and forecasting.

These COVID-19 budget woes have also resulted in some colleges and universities cutting sports programs, meaning less spots for potential college student recruits.

What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for non-revenue college sports?

Traditional earners that pull in big funds for colleges include college football and men’s basketball programs. Football and men’s basketball dramatically outpaced all other sports—men’s sports and women’s sports—by millions of dollars at UT Austin, Texas A&M College Station, and Ohio State Columbus.

College football cancellation will ripple throughout athletic departments as non-revenue sports are being cut. Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, for example, will permanently cut 11 varsity sports programs after the 2020-2021 school year. Stanford has cited cost concerns around COVID-19 despite the fact that the school had a $27.7 billion at the end of the fiscal 2019 year.

Stanford will have to cut sports such as men’s and women’s fencing, field hockey, lightweight rowing, men’s rowing, co-ed and women’s sailing, squash, synchronized swimming, men’s volleyball and wrestling. This affects more than 240 student-athletes.

It is highly likely that women’s sports, which are often funded at lower levels compared to men’s sports, will see reductions. Title IX, which bars discrimination based on sex and requires schools to offer equal opportunities in athletics across gender lines, should protect these sports.

Staff will likely shrink and salaries will be cut due to COVID-19 cutbacks.

What does the novel coronavirus pandemic mean for high school sports?

Just like many top colleges and universities, high school athletic administrators are also struggling with deciding what to do in the fall.

In a discussion with U.S. News, Michael L Blackburn, the executive director of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, shares, “It’s all over the board. There are all kinds of plans for starting at the end of July or into August. In most cases, schools are going to have to be operating in order for education-based athletic programs to begin. Some states require that students be in school face to face; some will accept their online time as attendance. It really does vary.”

States across the nation have begun to signal how they will move forward as they look to lock in plans for high school sports in the fall. States such as California, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington have released plans that do not include football this fall along with other contact sports. These seasons will therefore be pushed to spring in certain states. Some states have not yet released fall semester plans.

What will college recruiting for athletic departments look like during COVID-19?

High school sports cancellation implies the loss of a year of playing time, which means less game film for potential recruits as well as fewer opportunities to impress college coaches.

Dan Doyle, a recruiting coach manager, says that there are still other ways to get noticed by college recruiters. Doyle shares, “The electronic communication part of recruiting is [absolutely] vital right now.”

Doyle encourages students to organize their game film, transcripts and test scores in one place for coaches to see. Students can even make use of social media to connect with coaches.

High school student-athletes need to proactive. Coaches continue to be on the recruiting trail, even if they are doing so online from home. Students can put together skills videos that highlight their workouts or abilities in the chosen sport.

Students, at a time like this, must stay positive and recognize that the situation and circumstances are outstanding due to the pandemic.

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