Many colleges and universities in the U.S. are in danger of losing millions in revenue from canceled sports events.
College sports make roughly $1 billion annually in ticket sales and promotions for universities, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Athletic dollars from basketball, football and baseball can contribute more than half to a school's operating budget.
“There's never a good time for a pandemic but for college sports, I think this was particularly bad, because it happened right at the beginning of the men's basketball tournament, and the men's basketball tournament is the largest source of revenue for the NCAA,” Kristi Dosh, a college sportswriter and analyst, told VOA.
“Not having the men's basketball tournament this year was a huge loss for college sports. And you're only going to see that compounded if we go into the fall and football is impacted,” she added.
Some of that money trickles down to students through financial aid. There are more than 20,000 international student athletes enrolled in competing NCAA schools. These schools provide more than $2.9 billion in athletic scholarships to students annually.
Ira Graham IV, a high school student in Columbus, Ohio, was having a great season as a track athlete before the pandemic hit.
“I was pretty confident that I would be able to get a scholarship with the improvements I would have made during the season,” he said, noting in particular his improvements in hurdle races.
“But because of the ending of the season that didn't happen ... hopefully, in the end, I'll be able to still get a scholarship and still be competitive at the college level,” he said.
Some schools are pushing to go ahead with their college football season. But health experts have warned that this would require an enormous increase in COVID-19 testing for their athletes.
Thomas Huard, an expert in clinical laboratories and diagnostic testing, started the Campus Health Project this summer to help colleges and universities increase their testing capacity not just for athletes but for all students they are welcoming back on campus.
“They don't necessarily have the right resources to do all the testing. So, it's a concern because I don't know of a university football team that hasn't had positive cases,” Huard said.
Though he has concerns about the risks of going ahead with the college football season, Huard, a former college football player himself, said he understands the financial strain that canceling the season would cause.
“The economic impact to the universities is huge, as you can imagine. I think the budget for football is like $500 million for Texas,” he said.
“What do you do with season ticket holders? What do you do with people that have already bought tickets? Can you refund all that money or have you allocated it somewhere else already?” he asked.
The Ivy League and several other conferences have canceled fall season sports; many others are still considering their options.