Athletic programs across the country are planning for an uncertain economic future due to the shutdown of the economy due to the coronavirus.
“I don’t know how we could imagine we would be immune to any financial impact,” Colorado State athletic director Joe Parker told The Denver Post. “We’ll have to figure out ways to make adjustments and try to manage some positive financial outcomes.”
The challenge for CSU and the Mountain West to stay afloat, in comparison to their major conference counterparts, is more difficult due to much smaller budgets.
The University of Colorado athletic department generated $89.58 million in revenue for the 2018 fiscal year, according to the Knight Commission on College Athletics’ latest public filings. That’s roughly $35 million more than CSU ($54.73M) with the Rams unable to cash in on Power Five distribution revenue.
Canceling the NCAA Tournament made matters worse. The event generates a staggering $600 million that is distributed among its Division-I member institutions, and Parker echoed national media reports that schools are expected to receive reduced or no reimbursement at all.
“The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, and how that might be disruptive to the NCAA distribution, that’s real,” Parker said. “I’m glad we’re not in the fall sports time period, but who knows how long this goes and lingers?”
CSU and first-year head football coach Steve Addazio desperately need $220 million Canvas Stadium to be filled with fans Sept. 5 for the season opener against CU. The Rams’ massive on-campus investment, entering its fourth year of use, required $8.1 million in debt payments for 2018-19 on bonds sold to finance its construction, per the school’s financial agreement. That number rises to $12.2 million in 2021.
A stadium touted for year-round revenue now sits empty — its indoor and outdoor space unavailable for use.
“We’ve informed people who had planned to rent spaces (at Canvas Stadium) that we’re going to postpone and reschedule their events,” Parker said. “All the areas that we’ve used for receptions, business meetings and community gatherings. At the moment, we’ve cleared the calendar out until sometime toward the end of April.”
CSU is not the only school in Colorado experiencing economic unease amid the pandemic. CU faces pressure to to fill Folsom Field after the surprise exit of head football coach Mel Tucker for Michigan State in February.
“From Day 1, we’ve been in lockstep with our campus,” CU athletic director Rick George said this past week. “I think it’s important that athletics follows what our campus is doing, and the communication is excellent. We’re comfortable with where we are right now, knowing that things can change.”
Until there’s a return to normalcy in the sports world, it’s all speculation regarding how athletic departments might handle budget shortfalls. Football is the cash cow for the majority of FBS programs, but will that be enough to prevent immediate cutbacks to non-revenue-producing sports?
“Does this start to resolve in May, June or August? Hopefully, by then we can be back to normal living standards,” Parker said. “But you have to be sensitive to what’s occurring for all of us.”