Financial Implications of Potential Lost Season Staggering

Greg Arias

There's no debate or doubt that college football is the straw that stirs the drink of college athletics across the nation, especially in the Power Five conferences where the revenues generated in a single season are in the hundreds of millions for all 65 of the schools in this elite group of money makers. 

According to a report from ESPN's Mark Schlabach and Paula Lavigne, a canceled college football season would result in a $4 billion loss for college athletic programs across the country. This would add to an already significant toll that the coronavirus pandemic has wrought on college athletics, as programs have lost hundreds of millions so far.

That number is staggering, and one athletics directors across not only the elites but mid-majors and beyond will fight to avoid seeing on their books in 2020. 

While the exact numbers for Vanderbilt aren't made public, a report from's David Jones, the Commodores program brought in $30.8 million during the 2018 season, and when all was said and done carried a $6.8M profit to the bank. 

Those figures were good enough to rank the Commodores at No.60 out of 65 Power Five teams. Perhaps surprisingly, that figure wasn't last in the SEC as Mississippi State earned that distinction, coming in at No.61, just behind Vanderbilt with $29.8 Million in total revenue and a $6.5M final profit.  

Already in 2020, despite the worldwide pandemic that forced the cancellation of the remainder of conference baseball, and the NCAA Tournament along with baseball, which at places like Vanderbilt are profitable programs, each team in the conference earned a $44.6 million per school payday revenue spit from the conference from the 2019 season. 

"The revenue distributed through the Southeastern Conference enables our 14 member universities to provide unparalleled support to their student-athletes through superior instruction, training, equipment, academic counseling, medical care, mental health, and wellness support and life-skills development," said Commissioner Greg Sankey in a statement on the SEC website. "It is this sustained conference-wide commitment to the student-athlete experience that makes this conference sound and its impact so meaningful."

"In addition to supporting the overall student-athlete experience, revenues generated through SEC athletics can contribute in significant ways to the academic missions of the Conference's 14 universities," Sankey said. "These distributions provide each university the opportunity to make a positive impact on their respective campuses in ways unique to each institution. Past uses of this revenue on our campuses have included participation in the construction and renovation of academic facilities, support of academic scholarship opportunities, funding of academic programs, and direct transfers of funds to support academic budgets."

A season without college football would cost athletic departments conference revenues, as well as tickets, concessions, and other gameday dollars, and in turn, would trickle down to non-revenue sports to the point of forcing some schools to drop programs because of it. 

Already some smaller schools have jettisoned non-revenue programs in an attempt to get ahead of the curve that has been caused by the pandemic.    

It's a reality of the situation we as a nation find ourselves in, and the big business money-making machine of college athletics is right there with us. 

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