Even as some states claim the immediate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is starting to plateau, the potential financial impact of the pandemic on college athletics is just starting to emerge.

As college and universities assess potential budget shortfalls as a result of the $375-million loss of their portion of revenue distribution following the cancellation of the men’s and women’s basketball national championship tournaments and the elimination of all NCAA spring sports competitions, university presidents and athletic directors are being forced to analyze operating budgets, seek solutions, and make hard decisions regarding their sports programs for the 2020-21 academic year.

In a joint letter submitted to NCAA President Mark Emmert, the commissioners of five Division I conferences, asked the NCAA to waive certain NCAA requirements and provide waivers from compliance for a four-year period. The leaders of the American Athletic, Mountain West, Mid-American, Sun Belt, and Conference USA conferences have collectively asked the NCAA to eliminate its current requirement that a university sponsor a minimum of 16 intercollegiate varsity sports to remain a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision. The group of five commissioners also seeks to change current mandates that require schools to:

  • Offer a minimum number of athletic scholarships per year
  • Average at least 15,000 in attendance for home football games
  • Play a minimum number of total and home games in sports such as football, basketball and baseball

Acknowledging the challenges that universities face during the current COVID-19 environment, the commissioners’ letter pointed out that the

“financial challenges being faced include significant decreases in state appropriations, substantial losses in endowment valuation, and a downturn in philanthropic activity.”

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson stated, “Other conferences are engaged in the same process and this collaborative request from the Group of Five is intended as the sort of creative alternative these unprecedented times demand. The waivers of NCAA legislation would create a permissive environment, allowing each institution and conference across the Division I landscape the necessary flexibility to determine how best to proceed in making financial adjustments which are intended to preserve sports and opportunities for student-athletes.”

The letter from the five conference leaders indicates that schools are assessing the potential for additional revenue loss from the delay or cancellation of part or all of the 2020 college football as that is becoming more realistic with each passing day.

The potential loss of football-related revenue could eliminate revenue currently utilized to balance costs for non-revenue generating sports on a temporary basis.

This reality has already been felt. The University of Cincinnati has announced the elimination of its men’s soccer program and Old Dominion has confirmed that its wrestling program is being eliminated.

Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group will continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on collegiate and professional sports. Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group with questions.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.