Big 12 Revenue Estimates Plunge; Future Planning Anchored To Evolving COVID-19 Pandemic
Big 12 Conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby has been on a nearly non-stop treadmill of conference calls, reviews, contingency planning and financial analysis in the two weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the league’s winter and spring sports.
“I’m working from home like you probably are, and I’m finding it difficult and a bit odd,” Bowlsby said on Thursday afternoon. “We have calls with the A5 (Power 5) commissioners, and at least twice weekly calls with the athletic directors of the member schools. The CEOs (league presidents and chancellors) have met at least five times over the past two weeks, and there have been many talks and call with NCAA administrators and staff. I’ve been on conference calls from 7:30 in the morning until 7:30 at night.”
The subjects of the calls have covered the gamut of collegiate sports business, with money matters and the planning for various contingencies in practice and play taking center stage.
The former has resulted in some preliminary numbers, but the latter is still an issue without much clarity.
“The cancelled (Big 12) basketball championships will cost us about $6.6 million,” Bowlsby said, which is just a bit lower than the $7 million estimate which BlueGoldNews.com reported on when the event was called off two weeks ago. “The NCAA Board of Governors just took action with a distribution of $225 million out of the $600 million (which was budgeted). We would normally get $24 million, but now that that will be about $10 million. We will take some hits there. We are in the process of seeing the hits we will take in our television rights and advertising.”
Bowlsby did note that there are some savings that will accrue from not hosting championships and from other revenue sources, but those won’t make up for that $14 million shortfall, which is for this year only. The impact of the loss of NCAA units from men’s basketball tournament games not played this year will also roll over into further seasons. Those are paid out over a six-year period.
“It’s not all negative,” he said, trying to put the best face on the grim news. “We had a second team in the CFP. As a result of some member participation subsidies, we will save about $3 million. We got a $1 million subsidy from hoops that came in earlier this year. And we’ll have about a $2.5-$4 million savings from not hosting conference championships.
“The net loss will be in about the $15-$18 million range,” he concluded. “Those are round numbers. We do maintain an operating reserve. I think we will be able to make our members whole on what we forecast on this year’s distribution. We do have some unknowns in our budget, and it’s a whole new ballgame if we can’t play football.”
The idea that the football season might be shortened, or abandoned altogether, is beginning to be seriously discussed. Were the 2020 season to be affected, those loss numbers would skyrocket, and lead to major changes in the collegiate sports landscape, at least in the short term.
Even with the spectre of that catastrophe looming, Bowlsby and the league have not done a great deal of planning in regard to a potential change in the football schedule. Part of that decision is due to the rapid number of changes in the pandemic unfolding almost daily.
“We haven’t done a lot of modeling because I think it’s far too early to do that,” the commissioner noted, pointing to the rapid way things transpired in Kansas City two weeks ago, when modest social distancing measures moved to outright cancellation of the men’s and women’s basketball tournament in just two days. “We are looking at the next 60-90 days, and after that we will start looking at what the fall looks like. You could do planning now and it changes in two weeks. But that is a process we will have to go through if the next 60-90 days shows the fall is in jeopardy.”
Bowlsby noted that any change to football will first encompass modifications to summer workouts or practice, which will look much different in the wake of cancellation of spring drills.
“I think it’s very unlikely that we’re going to have any spring games. We’re looking at a window for a return to activity that’s six or eight weeks. May typically is a heavy lifting and training month. Then the coaches have camps and clinics. It may be that we can’t do any of that this year, so what do you do to get ready? I think that’s the part that we’re thinking about, what does that transition look like?
“What does it do to preseason camp? Is there a time when we have some sort of OTRs or captain’s practices or mini-camps? All those will be dictated by circumstances. I don’t think there’s a crystal ball on the planet that can predict what will happen in the coming months.”
Bowlsby, therefore, sees the necessity for a nimble approach – one that can react to a changing landscape quickly, and not be bound to a plan that is set up now but might not be applicable just a few weeks down the road.
“Is it going to be May or June or July? Will we see a second cycle?” he asked rhetorically of the potential length of the pandemic. “From what I have read, it’s unlikely we will have a vaccine by next year according to what I have seen. The uncertainty is unnerving. Those of us in athletics are geared toward ‘There’s our opponent. Let’s go game plan and see how we can win. This has so many changing components, that sort of execution is difficult. But I think we are looking at return to activity of 6-8 weeks at minimum. I think it’s going to be a while before we go back to any live activity on campus.”
The Big 12’s current moratorium on any sports activity or coaching, either live or remotely, runs through March 29. Bowlsby did not say whether or not that would be lifted, but did provide some hints as to how it might change. He noted that the league is working on guidance for sports medicine initiatives, rehabilitation and physical therapy, and that academic support is kept up. Noting that there is a Big 12 board meeting on Saturday, March, 28, it is expected that some announcement extending the current moratorium, but perhaps with some changes, will be forthcoming over the weekend.
“We are coming up on that March 29 the date we set to reconsider what we are doing. We have gone about doing that in conjunction with our A5 colleagues,” he explained, stressing the need for the leading conferences to work in lockstep. “We are taking a look at everything, what we can do with practices or voluntary workouts, what we can do at a distance, what can you send to them such as gear, food, supplements, etc.”
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In other topics:
Bowlsby noted that work on the NCAA name, image and likeness legislation and rule changes continues in spite of the pandemic. The working group, of which he is a member, continues to meet remotely.
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The league’s May meeting with football and basketball coaches will be done online or via teleconference. Later meetings, which include school CEOs and athletic directors, have not yet been cancelled or modified, but that appears to be quite likely given that the pandemic has not yet reached its peak.
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More than once, Bowlsby reiterated that working rules for modified summer practices, recruiting or fall scheduling will best be done if all of the A5 leagues work together, and function with the same changes.
“We will continue to collaborate with the other conferences so we all do the same things. That is the best way to approach it,” Bowlsby said. “It wouldn’t make any sense, for example, for us to play eight football games and another league nine and another a different number.”