It seems that with each passing day it’s becoming clearer and clearer that nothing is going to be the same after COVID-19 completely runs its course. The hardest part is trying to imagine what the impact will look like.
For Southern Utah University Athletic Director Debbie Corum, there is really only one approach. Corum told SUU News, “I think our motto [at SUU] is, ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.’”
The cancellation of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has already left athletic directors around the country searching for ways to combat the massive loss in shared revenue that is usually distributed to schools after the tournament.
The Salt Lake Tribune’s Josh Newman spoke to Corum about the potential financial fallout earlier this week.
“According to Corum, the Big Sky will have $4.5 million to give out to its members, down from the $10.7 million the conference was able to give out in 2019. Corum estimates Southern Utah’s cut will be between $525,000 and $550,000.”
Nearly every other athletic department in the nation is faced with a similar issue, and the hope among them is that this fall’s football season will be their financial saving grace.
If football season were to be canceled, that could lead to massive budget cuts to each program. For programs that already struggled to make enough revenue to outpace their budgets, it could spell serious ramifications.
Corum is wise to the potential fallout and is trying to gather every morsel of information she can to prepare for the future uncertainty.
“It’s been continual meetings,” Corum said with a half-serious laugh.
She meets with President Scott Wyatt three times a week during the president’s cabinet meetings. Once a week she meets with other female athletic directors. She talks on the phone three times a day with the program’s budget person to talk about potential models of weathering the storm.
One of the most imposing clouds in that storm is the loss of revenue that would come from missing SUU football’s “guarantee games.” For schools with larger athletic departments, it’s become common practice to pay smaller schools a lump sum to incentivize them into traveling to the larger institution.
SUU could lose out on the revenue from a guarantee game against Utah State University this fall, but Corum considers herself lucky that the potential shutdowns aren’t coming in a year where more lucrative games were scheduled.
Other Big Sky schools like Eastern Washington (at Florida, Sept. 5) and Portland State (at Arizona, Sept. 5) will have to deal with losing out on the guarantee-game money that supports travel and other expenses for the universities’ other athletic programs.
For SUU, the worst-case scenario involves losing the guarantee-game revenue.
“The worst-case scenario is that we don’t get to play our pre-conference football games and still have conference play,” Corum told SUU News. “Then we lose our guarantee-game money which helps to sustain our program, but we’d still have to pay for all the travel for the Big Sky.”
Losing that revenue could prove fatal for other sports who won’t have the funds needed to practice, train, rehab potential injuries and travel.
The Big Sky conference requires its members to support men’s and women’s basketball, football, men’s and women’s tennis, women’s golf, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s track and field and volleyball.
If the virus continues to put the world on hold, sports outside of that core group are most vulnerable to the budget cuts.
“None of us are really sure how long it will take to recover from this,” Corum said. “The best-case scenario is that everything gets back to normal by August 1. If the men’s basketball Final Four were to be canceled again we would have some really harsh ramifications for the world of collegiate athletics. I hope that doesn’t happen.”
In the meantime, Corum is searching for ways to save money for her school. She’s floated the idea of crowning regular-season champions instead of holding Big Sky conference tournaments and has had to take a closer look at each team’s necessary coaching staff.
“This might make the whole world of intercollegiate athletics take a really strong look at how we do business. As we get through this, I think we’ll come out on the other side better. I think we’re going to make some really tough decisions on the other end.”
All of the uncertainty has not aroused fear in Corum. She tries to maintain a positive attitude for herself and the other members of the department.
An earlier version of this article led to some confusion among our readers as to the future of the sports that fall outside of the Big Sky Conference required sports. SUU Athletic Director Debbie Corum said cutting any sports has not been discussed. For more information, visit suutbirds.com.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of Debbie Corum