The College Sports Economy

Robert Brooks Contributor
The College Sports Economy
Read Time: approx. 2:42

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The College Sports Economy: With the college football season in limbo, President Trump waded into the conversation yesterday with a mid-day tweet that read: “The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay.” Trump’s tweet, quoted another tweet from Clemson’s all-star quarterback, Trevor Lawrence who is leading a unified campaign via social media to call for college football games to be played this fall. Let’s break down what both sides are saying:

On the Right: Right leaning outlets generally highlighted both Trevor Lawrence and Donald Trump’s tweets in a positive manner. The headline from Fox News was: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence leads star student-athletes in unified message: ‘We all want to play football’. In the article, Fox’s Ryan Gaydos highlights Lawrence’s tweet which calls on colleges to “Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college-athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA. Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision. Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not. Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials; ultimately create a College Football Players Association [with] representatives of the players of all Power 5 conferences.” Lawrence also tweeted separate messages about the upcoming season and why he thinks student-athletes should be able to get to play. “People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract COVID-19,” the star quarterback wrote. “Not to mention the players coming from situations that are not good for them/ their future and having to go back to that. Football is a safe haven for so many people. We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football. Having a season also incentivizes… Players being (sic) safe and taking all of the right precautions to try to avoid contracting COVID because the season/ teammates safety is on the line. Without the season, as we’ve seen already, people will not social distance or wear masks and take the proper precautions.” This is when the President weighed in by showing his support for Lawrence. Other players began retweeting the message along with the hashtag “WeWantToPlay.”

On the Left: Left-leaning outlets acknowledged Lawrence’s desire to play, but also noted safety concerns. The headline from CBS was: “Players want college football to go on this fall, but they have to consider all the risks.” In the article Dennis Dodd writes: “Good for the players speaking their mind, but any argument over what appears to be a forthcoming decision not to play college sports this fall isn’t about desire. Anything short of a players association to negotiate such things renders that argument moot. This is about common sense. This was an uphill battle that had to start with the realization this couldn’t be about winning first. Medical professionals told us this was about getting the 130 FBS teams through the season healthy. From the beginning, the return of college football was more likely to spread the coronavirus than stop it: Assemble 120 guys in a small space — locker room, team meeting room, doesn’t matter. That goes against every medical guideline out there. Then let them scream, hit, sweat. Do it a combined 150 times over three hours in a game that one team has traveled to play. Players want to play? No kidding. We all want college football to be played. But it does not appear to be safe. Simple as that. And it won’t be until the global pandemic is at least under some sort of control — especially in the United States. The same parents who are advocating to play were the ones who inevitably would have sued in a heartbeat if one of their sons — God forbid — was hospitalized. The reason you don’t let players dictate such a situation is because they are not considering all the risks. America might need football, but first, it needs to defeat the coronavirus.”

Flag This: There’s a double-edged sword phenomenon playing out in the professional ranks right now. The “bubble” approach that the NHL and NBA are using is working—which is great. At the same time, it’s not sustainable in the long-run for either of those leagues, nor is it adaptable for the NFL and College Football. Herein lies the problem, which at its core is just another shade of the back-to-school debate that is playing out at all age-levels. The issue, however, is that college football is a multi-billion dollar business that drives much needed revenue for institutions across the country and serves as an important jobs creator in these localities as well. “For some towns football is everything,” CNBC writes. “Prairie View, Texas, home to Prairie View A&M University, is a glaring example. The school completed a new, 15,000-seat stadium in 2016, despite being a town of only roughly 6,500 people. The school’s intention with its new facility was to drive enrollment rates up, and research shows hosting a football game has ‘tremendous economic benefits’ in the form of inviting new stimulus into the town that would have been spent elsewhere.” Small towns literally live and die by college football. In regards to the college sports economy as a whole, football is the industry’s primary revenue engine, and a lost season could wipe out $4 billion in total revenue, according to ESPN. Scratching March Madness already cost schools a reported total of $375 million and prompted the cancellation of all spring sports. This means schools will likely have to cut non-revenue generating teams and programs. According to CNBC, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have cut, dropped or suspended 61 Division I teams and 176 programs across all NCAA levels. Oddly enough this has had an outsized impact on tennis programs, as 20% of the cuts affected the sport. So what are the odds there’s college football this season? Well, according to Axios’ Kendall Baker, “Athletic directors and industry sources do not sound hopeful about playing football this fall.” “In the next 72 hours, college football is going to come to a complete stop,” one source told SI. As of now, COVID looks like it will plunder another American pastime of waking up on a crisp Saturday morning in October, with the smell of fall in the air. It’s 40-something degrees and you throw on a flannel to head to a tailgate or cookout. The College Gameday countdown begins and something uniquely American plays out for the next 15 hours straight: young-athletes whose bonds have not been tainted by the riches that come with professional play yet. Motivation is largely driven by accountability to one-another, and a love for their school and town. They play in venues that are larger than European soccer stadiums, and they’re just 18 years old. America needs this, let’s hope something can be figured out.