U.S.Colleges Reporting “Huge” Financial Blows Due to Pandemic

Who would doubt this? The lead in a story reported by CBS News (April 7) in University World News is that the hit could “total” as much as $100 million at some campuses.

“Dozens of colleges have instituted hiring freezes, and many are halting construction projects so they have enough money to pay employees. But university presidents say the savings will only stretch so far, and many are asking the federal government for a second stimulus package to avoid deeper cuts.”

Let’s put this amount in some perspective: in the Sunday, April 12 Washington Post, there is a story in the Sports section, “No football would mean trouble for colleges.” Trouble…Not a huge financial blow…Here is a look at the trouble campuses face if their football programs collapse next year: Iowa State’s annual athletic budget is $90 million; 75% of this sum comes from football. At the University of Central Florida, a “roughly” $172 fee assessed to EVERY full-time undergrad provides more than $23 million of the athletic department’s $68 million in revenue. But, let’s look at the big boys –the University of Georgia’s athletic department has a $100 million “reserve fund!” At the University of Alabama, football generated $95 million of the athletic department’s $164 million of revenue in 2019!

While the vast sums spent on collegiate football programs, especially within the SEC conference, is not new, I was more affected about the “troubles” anticipated in this coming year given the more real blows campuses are going to experience with regard to their overall academic and administrative expenses. I loved playing high school football. But, I’ve never truly enjoyed the spectacle of the sport at big-time programs — and now, when the nation is suffering so deeply, it feels immoral to worry about coaches having to give up some of their multi-million dollar salaries because of lost revenue next season (big-time football coaches , let’s remember, earn far more than their campus presidents).

I can’t begin to imagine the Zoom calls with donors to collegiate football programs, with the coaches, and the development officers…How do they square the trade-offs of loss of revenue with no football season, against the loss of revenue from say, vast reduction in enrollment of international students, or loss of revenue because low-income/minority kids cannot afford to return to class?

What would it look like to turn football stadiums built for 80-90,000 fans into field hospitals? Even the vast parking lots outside these stadiums offer enough space to meet the overflow needs of hospitals.

I’m not in the mood to say more. I’m thinking about the first sentence in the CBS report that campuses across the country may suffer a loss of less than what one large athletic program costs at just one of our campuses…

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