Georgia coach Kirby Smart is well aware of the financial impact that could hit schools if there is no college football season in 2020. Football is the main source of athletic revenue for many schools across the top level of college sports. Without football, schools are staring at a massive financial hole that would take years and lots of budget cuts to escape.
But Smart also sees the downside in schools operating like they have to have a football season for financial reasons. As schools across the country start to make plans for their football players and other athletes to return to campus for voluntary workouts, Smart told reporters Wednesday that “the worst thing” coaches and administrators could do is feel like the 2020 season has to be played because of finances.
“The worst thing we can do as coaches or administrators is to feel like we have to do this in order to survive financially and make a decision that is costly to some, even one student-athlete,” Smart said, via Rivals’ UGASports.com. “I know from a Georgia perspective, every decision we’re making on the return to sport is the safety and health and well-being. There won’t be pressure to work out, to go do this extra. Kids got to voluntarily do it. If a guy doesn’t feel comfortable or if a guy has a fever or a guy feels sick, we don’t want him to come in. We don’t want him to put himself in jeopardy and we’ve got to convey that.”
kirby smart on the financial pressure to have a college football season: "the worst thing we can do as coaches or as administrators is to feel like we have to do this in order to survive financially and make a decision that is costly to even one student athlete." pic.twitter.com/Klhh8VT72K— Alex Glaze (@Alex_Glaze) May 28, 2020
Georgia resumes voluntary workouts June 8
The SEC voted last week to allow schools to open their facilities to football players for voluntary workouts on June 8 following the NCAA Division I council’s decision to let schools resume voluntary activities on June 1.
Georgia is one of the schools starting on June 8. As players are scattered across the country, schools are quarantining and screening players when they return ahead of the voluntary workouts. And many in college athletics feel that it’s safer for players to work out at team facilities while observing social distancing protocols than to have players continue to work out at different locations across the country.
Smart said he anticipates every Georgia player returning to campus for voluntary workouts.
"We haven’t had anybody tell us that’s not the case, at least not yet, but that’s certainly up to each individual player,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do before we get back. We have to do a complete medical workup, a physical of every kid before they’re able to come back and work out. There’s a lot of steps that happen before June 8 that we’re all going through now. But our guys are excited. There’s obviously some apprehension and questions, but they’ve got those same questions, whether they are in Huntsville, in Macon or Columbus, about going out to work out. They know that our facility is one of the safest and we’ve certainly got the ability to care for that facility better than a lot of places they can go to back home.”
Football is even more financially important
While it’s easy to agree with Smart’s assessment that schools shouldn’t push to play football solely because of financial reasons, it’s impossible to ignore just how important the money from football will be in 2020. NCAA schools got $375 million less than they were supposed to get from the governing body because of the cancellations of the NCAA tournaments. Losing television money from football would be even more devastating.
And most schools are already looking at a football revenue reduction anyway. Social distancing measures will certainly mean that stadiums are either empty or filled to just a partial capacity in 2020. That’s a big loss of ticket and concession revenue.
Smart said he was optimistic about having fans in the stands during the football season. But he said he had no clue about how any of those specifics would work.
"That’s one of those decisions where I’m referring to the experts on,” he said. “What I’ve found is, everything we think is going to happen can change based on what goes on from now until then. Our players coming back, are there going to be any spikes? Is anything going to happen in July? We’ll know a lot more about the season — as far as people in the stands, which I know you’re asking about for September — when that comes.
"I think you’ve still got to realize it’s still three months away. With it being three months away, it’s hard to make a decision. Three months ago, from right now, we were just finding out what was going on. So, we’ve got three months, and I’m very optimistic that we will have fans in the stands, but to what extent, I have no clue and don’t expect to.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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