What’s the Financial Fallout From a Canceled Football Season?

Sports fans looking forward to the college football fall season may have to wait a little longer. 

This week the Big Ten and Pac-12 announced they’re postponing the fall sports season because of coronavirus-related health and safety concerns.

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Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren told the Big Ten Network the decision was not made easily, yet the current circumstances are too uncertain.

“It’s person-first and it’s students, and understand that also they’re not professionals, these are amateur athletes and they deserve the opportunity to be able to participate in a healthy and safe manner,” Warren said.

The news comes as a disappointment to players, coaches and fans. And its financial fallout may reach far beyond the game itself.

“There are businesses built around it and this was a huge blow, economic blow, to lots of different businesses beyond just the Big Ten and the schools and certainly the Big Ten networks that were planning to show these games,” said Danny Ecker, a reporter at Crain’s Chicago Business.

Northwestern University and University of Illinois are a part of the Big Ten. On Tuesday, the Vice President for Athletics and Recreation at Northwestern University James Phillips released a statement about the cancellation.

“Our entire Northwestern community is heartbroken by the necessary decisions made today by the Big Ten Conference, even as we stand in full confidence we are making the right decision. The health and safety of our more than 500 student athletes always has been, and will continue to be, our number one priority.”

While the players are students, college football is a major economic engine. It brings in hundreds of millions in revenue for universities and their athletic departments.

“The big piece of the pie is for broadcast rights,” Ecker said. “For example, the Big Ten has really led the way.”

Ecker said the league signed a six-year broadcasting deal in 2017 with FOX, ESPN and CBS. In the last fiscal year each school got more than $50 million apiece – in 2013 that was just $25 million.

“These athletic departments rely on that revenue in many cases for football, basketball to pay for non-revenue sports, sports that don’t drive so much revenue,” Ecker said. “So there are far reaching impacts certainly to athletic departments when you have these games not being played.”

The Big Ten and Pac-12 are two leagues in the “Power 5.” The Big 12 says it intends to have football in the fall, and the ACC and SEC have yet to announce their plans

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