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'We've got to see cases go down': The impact of COVID-19 on college football, other sports in 2020

As the virus threatens a fall without college football, the economic loss to athletic departments may lead to schools cutting certain sports. Some already have.
Credit: WFAA

DENTON, Texas — It's a nightmare to imagine, but it's becoming a reality for many colleges in America: a fall without football.

"If the decision had to be made today, we wouldn't play," admitted Wren Baker, athletic director at the University of North Texas.

COVID-19 shutdown every major sport in America and, now it's threatening to do the same to college football.

"If the numbers stay where they are today, it's hard for me to envision us playing this fall," Baker added.

The college football season kicks off in six weeks, but not for all schools.

The Ivy League, Patriot League, MEAC, SCAC and the entire NJCAA (junior colleges) have opted to move football, and all fall sports, to later in the school year.

RELATED: Ivy League calls off fall sports due to outbreak: AP Source

"We think there's a better chance we start and finish a season in the spring," said Michael Landers, athletic director at NJCAA's Navarro College in Corsicana. "At the NCAA level, they're having these same conversations right now." 

Despite postponing the football season, Landers does not expect a ripple effect on the other sports at Navarro.

"For us specifically, we're not planning on eliminating any programs," asserted Landers.

However, many colleges will have to make cuts. Some already have.

More than a dozen schools have eliminated at least one sport due to budget cuts including PAC-12 powerhouse Stanford, which gutted 11 of their 36 teams.

UNT sponsors the FBS minimum of 16 sports teams, so it wouldn't make sense to cut a program if they have to replace it anyway.

However, the NCAA may decide -- given the extenuating circumstances facing colleges and universities this upcoming school year -- to reduce the minimum number of teams. If that's the case, you may see even more cuts across Division I athletics.

RELATED: NCAA releases COVID-19 guidance, but prospects of playing look grim

"We could probably get through a fall at North Texas because we do have a little put away in reserve money, but if we don't play [football] at all, it's going to be a difficult situation," Baker told WFAA Sports reporter Jonah Javad. "Might this get to a point where those levers have to be pulled, it certainly could. My hope is that isn't the case."

Without football -- without ticket sales and ad revenue, without fans to pack the stadiums and buy concessions -- D1 programs are in danger of losing a lot of money this year.

"So much of it at the Power 5 level is revenue driven," said Landers.

The Power 5 is a group of the five most powerful conferences in college sports: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and the SEC.

The Texas Longhorns (Big 12) made almost $224 million in revenue during the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Football accounted for nearly two-thirds of it. And get this: 94% of UT's athletic profits were from football.

"If Texas and Texas A&M are not playing football this fall, that's going to change athletic department budgets drastically," Landers stated.

But, the economic impact goes beyond campus. Losing a football season means losses in revenue for local businesses, too.

"I don't think anybody is oblivious to the data and information that's out there," Baker said. "I just think people are not wanting to rush into a decision."

While some conferences have postponed football to the spring (some to accommodate the campus policies of the schools within them), the Power 5 conferences will take this decision down to wire because there's no reason not to.

However, something has to change in the next six weeks.

"We've got to see the cases go down and go down drastically," said Baker.

And fans can play their part.

"Social distancing and wearing your mask," Baker declared. "If you want college football, that's what it's going to take."

But if that's too much to ask, go ahead. Imagine a fall without football.

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