Root against football? Right now, it's the B1G's only option
Let’s just state the obvious: the B1G didn’t expect six conferences to still be pursuing a fall football season. When the league became the first at the Power 5 level to postpone, it expected everyone else to follow the leader.
There’s no question that the presidents around the conference, as well as commissioner Kevin Warren, believed the league’s cautious and sanctimonious approach to a fall sports season would have a domino effect across college athletics. With the B1G backing down in the name of “health and safety,” the decision-makers clearly anticipated others to follow suit.
Instead, six conferences are holding firm — for now. The leagues left standing — AAC, ACC, Big 12, C-USA, SEC and Sun Belt — have weighed the risks and are trudging forward towards the season, much like George Washington leading his troop across the Delaware River in December 1776.
And if their journey reaches the finish line, it’s going to have a lasting negative impact on the B1G.
The B1G has painted itself into this corner and now has become the villain on the outside looking in. It must now hope, pray, and yes, even root against football being played this fall.
For clarity’s sake, I’m currently pounding away at a keyboard with every finger and toe crossed. In my 30-plus years as a fan of sports and college football, I’ve never cheered harder than I am currently for a safe return to football this fall, even if it means the B1G is standing on the sideline, mouth agape, wondering how on earth its conservative approach backfired.
If — yes, it’s still “if” — those conferences successfully complete a season, the B1G is in for a world of hurt. The financial ramifications will increase. Recruiting will take a hit. Exposure will be non-existent. That’s all in addition to the embarrassingly inept leadership the conference has displayed over the last two weeks.
Already, athletic departments in the B1G are estimating $100 million in lost revenue for the upcoming fiscal year due to the cancellation of the football season. The University of Iowa announced that it’s cutting four athletic programs at the end of the academic year. Nebraska is furloughing 51 athletic department employees until January 1, 2021, and those remaining will be hit with a 10 percent salary reduction.
More of these announcements are likely to come.
Not all of those losses will come from television contracts and game-day income. According to Hero Sports, the B1G netted $89.5 million in bowl-game revenue following the 2018 season. Each conference receives $6 million for each team that earns a spot in the College Football Playoff and $4 million for New Year’s Six bowl games.
According to Forbes, Wisconsin’s appearance in the Rose Bowl last year brought the league a whopping $40 million.
If you’re reading between the lines, it’s not just harmful to the B1G’s accounting books because it won’t collect on that giant payday. It’s that those six remaining conferences can swoop in and claim the loot the B1G is leaving on the table.
You’d better believe that will have a significant impact on recruiting.
The exposure the B1G loses without playing for at least another five months will be harmful enough. That’s if you believe a spring season is actually feasible, otherwise, it would 19 months (!) between B1G football competitions. But as the conference’s money dries up, the recruiting budget for the league’s 14 teams will dwindle, as well. While teams in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC may still see a crunch in terms of recruiting expenditures, playing a full season may allow for those schools to operate closer to their traditional budget than the B1G.
Or, at the very least, it may not be a bare-bones operation for teams in those three conferences.
As bad as it all is, it still pales in comparison to the Midwestern circus we’ve witnessed over the last two weeks. The incredible lack of transparency and leadership may already be the biggest recruiting advantage for the three Power 5 leagues left standing.
The B1G’s decision to pull the plug on fall football has been cloaked in ambiguity. Warren has offered little insight into how the league came to its rash conclusion on fall sports. Presidents have locked their doors and hidden beneath their desks, waiting for the storm to subside before emerging from their caves.
Meanwhile, student-athletes spoke out against the decision, claiming they had no voice in the conversation. Justin Fields’ petition calling for the conference to reverse course has exceeded 300,000 signatures. Coaches vented frustrations on national television. Parent groups from multiple schools sent letters to the conference. Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos told the Omaha World-Herald that all 14 athletic directors within the conference wanted to move forward with a season.
The rug was pulled out from beneath all those closest to the playing field. The ACC, Big 12 and SEC have been laughing harmoniously watching this nightmare unfold.
Student-athletes are told to make life-long decisions when selecting a college football team. What, from a leadership perspective, would indicate that the B1G higher-ups are working in the best interest of a prospective student? Would you be willing to sign your son or daughter up to attend one of the 14 institutions after seeing this play out?
Don’t think programs in the ACC, Big 12 and SEC won’t use that against the B1G moving forward. Even if those three leagues end up calling it quits on the 2020 fall schedule, they’ve already won the battle on public relations.
In a lot of ways, the B1G has already shot itself in the foot. A decision the conference believed would be met with open applause has instead been received with harsh criticism. This disaster will undoubtedly have consequences.
If the remaining conferences pull off a successful season, those consequences will only be magnified. And it’s not something that can be fixed by simply playing football in the spring.