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How the Big Ten Cancelling Fall Football Will Impact the Gophers

Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson (USA Today Sports)

Big Ten football is not happening in 2020.

School presidents met early this week to determine if playing this season was still feasible, and Tuesday afternoon the conference released a statement confirming and detailing the postponement of the fall sports season until spring 2021.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in the statement.

Included with football, men’s and women’s cross country, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball are all postponed. According to the statement, the conference will continue to evaluate their options with “the possibility of competition in the spring.”

For the uncertainty of sports existing outside of a bubble, as has been seen with MLB’s return to play, a college football team of 100-plus players and more staff along with that is an extreme wild card.

What does this mean for those involved? Not much of anything good for the sports themselves, that can be certain.

Current Players

Though some of the players had already declared to sit out the season and prepare for the NFL Draft, most players on every team will not play in the NFL. This is their shot to play football, and many prepared all year to play games this season, where many are left wanting to continue with the season.

Also with the players, is it likely the student-athletes begin the process of unionizing, now more than ever. If the season happened, the players would have had plenty of demands about their health and safety, as outlined in a Players’ Tribune piece last week from football players in the Big Ten. Even if the season doesn’t happen, the groundwork is already laid to continue down the path of a more organized player base in NCAA sports.

Future Players

Division-I recruits will have a tough time determining what path is right for them, especially with the variance between state high school sports rulings.

Minnesota is postponing the high school football season to the spring, so what does a recruit do who is on the fence to being an early enrollee vs. playing the high school season? Also, if the college season is postponed to the spring, the recruiting process for the student will be significantly changed with the flipped schedule of the coaching staffs of each program.

Coaches

Speaking of the recruiting process, instead of going on the recruiting trail full-on right as the season ends in November and December, coaches now have to prepare for the upcoming spring season at this point.

While these coaches can move along and shift the schedule, it definitely is a detriment to the processes for each of these coaches working during a different timeline to get the next wave of student-athletes to the program.

Non-Revenue Sports

According to the 2019 NCAA Financial Report for the University of Minnesota, only three of its 21 programs were net positive that year: football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey.

While men’s hockey only cleared the bar by 5%, men’s basketball brought in nearly double what it paid out. As for football, while the percentage isn’t as high, the volume is paramount with the football program profiting more than $28 million in 2019. Overall, Minnesota’s football program brought in more than $62 million in the fiscal year 2019.

Without the football money powerhouse at Minnesota, the budgets will be crunched. If the spring season has fewer games, that means less money coming into the athletics department, which could mean other sports being cut from the department. Minnesota nearly did this almost 20 years ago with the golf and gymnastics programs, while the athletics department faced a budget deficit. The programs were ultimately saved, but largely from private donations.

Ramifications

Overall, the college football season being canceled or postponed to the spring shakes up a lot in athletics departments across the Big Ten. Beyond just football or the players on the roster currently, this could have lasting aftereffects, as many things arising from COVID-19 have.

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