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Why football season is a must for WVU and other major programs

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — By the time this autumn rolls around, football season will be a must for a sports-starved public.

But even they won’t need it as much as the academic institutions who have invested in college football.

“It’s a whole new ballgame if we find ourselves not playing football because it affects everything we do,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said last week. “It affects the largest portion of our TV contract, and it affects the largest source of campus revenue, which is live gate.

“So anything that I say regarding finances, it has to make the assumption that we’re going to be back to playing football in the fall. If that doesn’t happen, then the underpinning of what we’ve known as normal goes away and we’ll have major changes to make.”

Take West Virginia, which had overall athletic revenues of $102.6 million in 2018 compared to $91.8 million in expenses. If football was removed from that equation in 2020 on top of the money already lost from the cancellation of the NCAA tournament, there would be dire consequences for WVU’s budget.

“It would be catastrophic,” Mountaineers athletic director Shane Lyons said in a Wednesday night appearance on MetroNews Sportsline. “You’re talking about $38 million that is TV revenue you get from the networks to air games. The conference gets anywhere from $350-400 million to distribute to the 10 schools in the Big 12.

“If the games are not played, and therefore you don’t have the TV revenue, then you’re looking at approximately $30 million. Then from a season ticket standpoint, about $16 million. So you’re looking at over a $50 million hit from a financial standpoint if football isn’t played.”

And that’s just the known money. Logic would dictate that some program donors would also have less money to donate with more important financial matters to tend to, such as ravaged retirement accounts.

Perhaps that explains why Lyons is so inclined to maintain a positive attitude that the COVID-19 epidemic will dissipate by the end of the summer. The decisions he would be forced to make if his budget was sliced in half would be uncomfortable, to say the least.

“I’m optimistic we will play football come September and preseason will start on time in August,” Lyons said on a Wednesday media teleconference. “Our projections, based upon the medical experts, they feel once we get to late summer, the August area, normal life will hopefully be back all across the US. That’s kind of our hope.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be a potential downturn in revenue. The possibility of playing in front of limited or entirely eliminated crowds is still on the table. So is a potential shortened season.

But even that would be a more manageable situation than the doomsday scenario that does not include football.

“What it looks like for the public and ticket sales, that’s still early on to project that,” Lyons said. “Right now there’s a lot of people out of jobs, that’s unfortunate. The pandemic won’t go away over night. There’s a number of factors we’ll have to look at that we don’t have at this point.”

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