Big 12 commissioner shares updates on revenue losses, concerns on football season

WVU Football

Conference lost $6.6 million by canceling basketball tournaments, could lose more if coronavirus outbreak extends into fall

The Big 12 Conference is losing revenue with college athletics on hiatus, according to its commissioner. 

Bob Bowlsby outlined those financial losses Thursday on a conference call with reporters. He noted that the league lost about $6.6 million after canceling its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in Kansas City. In addition, the NCAA Board of Governors will only distribute $225 million to member conferences, roughly one-third of the $600 million originally budgeted by the governing body. 

The Big 12 expected to receive $24 million from that revenue distribution, but will instead receive around $10 million, according to Bowlsby. 

“We’re going to take some hits there,” Bowlsby said. 

The commissioner also expects to see “reductions” in television revenue and sponsorships, though some of those losses will be canceled out by other factors, such as money saved by not hosting conference championships in the spring and downsizing conference operations. 

“It looks like the debt could be in the $15-18 million range, which obviously goes directly to distribution, but those are round numbers,” Bowlsby said. “It’s a little early to determine if that’s gonna play itself out.” 

While it’s far too early to tell what will happen in the future during this unprecedented situation in the modern era of college sports, Bowlsby indicated fears that things could get worse financially before they get better. If the NCAA or member conferences are forced to adjust or cancel football season, that would cause more devastating financial repercussions. 

“It’s a whole new ballgame if we find ourselves not playing football because it affects everything we do,” Bowlsby said. “It affects the largest portion of our TV contract and affects the largest source of campus revenue, which is live games. Anything that I say regarding finances has to make the assumption that we’re gonna be back to playing football in the fall. If that doesn’t happen, the underpinning of what we know as normal goes away, and we’ll have major changes to make.” 

Despite the NCAA cutting its revenue distribution by about two-thirds, Bowlsby said the Big 12 intends to make its members whole when that money is handed out in June. But how long will it take for the Big 12 and other leagues to recover from those losses? That depends, most immediately, on the status of football season.

Bowlsby said the league has not deeply investigated the outcomes of a jeopardized football season, but it will begin “modeling what the fall looks like” soon. 

“We’re just beginning to mess around with those numbers a little bit, but obviously that’s a process we’re gonna have to go through if the next 60 to 90 days tell us that the fall is in jeopardy,” Bowlsby said.

As for spring football, the conference hasn’t canceled practices or spring scrimmages outright because the Big 12 doesn’t control when teams schedule those events. It only mandates how many practices each team can hold. 

Still, Bowlsby said it’s “very unlikely” that spring football will resume in its normal form. 

The commissioner added that one possible scenario for football season is that early season games could be played in empty stadiums, which became the plan for the league basketball tournaments before they were ultimately canceled. That would create an entirely unusual atmosphere for most college football teams, but it would potentially keep the TV revenue lifeline in tact. 

“I would say it’s hard to forecast those things,” Bowlsby said. “We have things happening right now that we couldn’t have envisioned three weeks ago.” 

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