Monday, July 6, 2020

College Football? It’s When, Not If

By Jean Neuberger

If you wade through some of the social media cesspools, you'll see a lot of people say that sports aren't important.

Those people, to quote former President Reagan, know so much that isn't so.

America needs football. College sports need football. College towns desperately need football.

For example, let's take the current national champions, LSU. The Baton Rouge Advocate has a fantastic article about the economic benefits that a season of Tiger football brings to the community. The numbers, based off a study by a LSU economics professor, are pretty impressive. Based off a study in 2013, fan spending for LSU football resulted in nearly $60 million in sales, nearly $19 million in new household earnings and over 600 jobs. (LSU completed stadium expansions in 2014 and 2017.)

The study went further, showing that the entire LSU athletic department in 2013 was responsible for $397.5 million in sales, nearly $120 million in new household earnings and close to 4,000 jobs in the Baton Rouge metro area.

Now, LSU is one of the more lucrative programs out there. But, even if we just consider the 64 Power Five teams, with averages a bit lower than LSU, you're still likely looking at tens of billions in sales, billions in new household earnings and somewhere in the range of 200,000 jobs nationwide. Sounds pretty important to me.

We know the power of football, and athletics in general, can be for a town. Let's dig further.

It's pretty much assumed that, for most athletic programs, football pays the bills. It had to be true, I thought, given that realignment in college athletics has revolved entirely around football. When we consider just how close Kansas was to being outside the Power Five a few years ago as Texas was flirting with the Pac-12, you quickly realize just how much clout football has, especially given the tradition of KU's basketball program.

The Lexington (KY) Herald-Reader studied the profit and loss sheets of SEC programs for 2018-19. Football generates the most revenue for each school (though basketball generates more profit at Kentucky). At some schools, it's staggering. Georgia's athletic program generated a profit of around $30 million. Take away football, and they would've been over $43 million in the red ... a $73 million swing.

It also shows that, despite success from SEC schools in various Olympic sports, football and men's basketball were the only profitable programs for most of the schools. For Alabama and Ole Miss, it was just football. Only Arkansas and LSU had more than those two, both accruing profits from their baseball programs.

Think it's just a southern thing? One would have to believe schools such as Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas, and Southern California would be in similar situations. And we never even brought up the massive conference TV contracts.

Bottom line: this pandemic has been a beast and then some. And, due to social distancing and ticket restrictions, every school will take a hit. Every school will cut its budgets. Every school and fan base will feel the economic pains of this pandemic ... with a hope and a prayer that they won't feel additional pains of casualties.

But if there's any chance ... any ... that football can be played, it has to be played. If it starts in the snow after New Year's, it'll happen. There's so many restaurants and hotels in towns big and small, that need this. There's so many student athletes, participating in so many sports, that need this.

Maybe it's too optimistic, but in terms of a 2020-21 football season, it has to be a when, not an if.

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