This will be the toughest, most difficult season in the history of collegiate football.
The mere financial cost of 130 FBS programs attempting to play a football season with the sinister aura of COVID-19 dangling overhead defies estimation.
Oh, sure, the Ohio States, Alabamas, Clemsons, Georgias and Oklahomas will be fine. But what about the already financially strapped Group of Five? More specifically, what about Marshall University?
How will the Thundering Herd survive?
That is a very realistic question.
So, let’s examine the circumstances.
Testing: This is a make-or-break category. First, there is the cost of the COVID-19 test. Dr. Brian Hainline, NCAA chief medical officer, estimates the current cost of a test ranges between $100 and $150. It would be the schools’ and conferences’ obligation to obtain the tests and pay for them.
“The conferences are getting together and saying, ‘OK, how can we have a unified approach to testing?’ ” Hainline told ESPN. “And then they use their power as a conference if they’re working with private industry or if they’re working with one of the schools that has a research lab or a large hospital lab.
“I think increasingly we’re going to see this worked out at the conference level. That doesn’t mean that the individual school doesn’t pay for it, but there’s sort of a power in bringing down costs when several schools are coming together.”
But another doctor, Dev Anderson, who works with a program named Control Education for Major Sports, doubts if routine testing is even financially feasible for college programs.
“It is clearly going to be a part of the way professional athletes deal with this and professional leagues,” Anderson told ESPN. “I think it’s going to be more of a struggle for colleges. ...
“My suspicion is testing will be a part, there will probably be various screens from time to time, but I will be surprised if routine testing is a part of college. The logistic cost and numbers don’t add up very well.”
Yet how can a college football program not test for the coronavirus at least once a week?
Nothing less makes sense, even if it doesn’t make dollars and cents.
Take Marshall, for example. The Herd would number about 150 people — players, coaches, trainers, managers and all athletic department personnel — who would be tested weekly. At $100 per test, the cost would be $15,000 per week. But for argument’s sake, let’s say the price drops to $25. That still would be $3,000 of new expense per week.
During a 27-week regular season the cost would be $81,000. Add in a bowl game and it rises to $90,000.
How does this unbudgeted expense get paid?
Revenue: Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick was banking on home games against Pittsburgh and Boise State producing 30,000-plus crowds at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
But not now, the most prevalent percentage for allowance of fans in stadiums is 25 percent of the facility’s capacity. In Marshall’s case, it would mean only 9,536 fans would be permitted to attend Herd home games.
That’s 13,654 fewer fans than Marshall averaged per home game in 2019 (23,190).
That revenue can’t be made up. Besides that, it’s doubtful that tailgating will be permitted. So, parking revenue will be lost. It’s also questionable if concession stands would be open. If they are, it means workers will have to be tested.
Positive test: It’s inevitable. Sooner or later, nearly every college football program is bound to have a player with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, who will be diagnosed with the coronavirus.
“I think it’s unrealistic to think that we won’t have positive tests on campus and positive tests in locker rooms,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN. “Somebody somewhere is going to have that occur and they’ll have to deal with it.”
Training table: That always has been a staple of every college football program. But not anymore. Buffets have bit the culinary dirt. Just ask Golden Corral. Now, the players will have to eat prepackaged meals that will be much safer. They also will be much more expensive.
Costs are going to climb and climb, while revenue falls and falls.
It’s not a formula for economic success. Yet, is there any way around it? No.
This is the infected hand NCAA football has been dealt.
So, what are the chances of every program surviving?
Just like with the coronavirus, there will be casualties.