COVID-19’s Impact on Collegiate Athletics

Higher education has undoubtedly been one of the most significantly impacted industries across the United States related to the coronavirus pandemic. This ranges from a loss of room-and-board income in the spring to current-year enrollment drops due to first-year students taking a gap year between high school and college. The industry has funneled extraordinary amounts of money into online learning, research on CDC guidelines to ensure compliance for a safe return of their students, and training employees to comply with the new rules and regulations. All of these actions have taken a significant financial toll despite the higher education emergency relief funds provided by the government. The financial impact from coronavirus is obvious; however, there is another area impacted that is often overlooked -- collegiate athletics.

With Big Ten and Pac-12 football seasons starting later than originally planned and games being played without fans in the stands, major NCAA Division I football programs could lose up to $156 million of revenue in 2019. These revenues stem from ticket sales, media contracts and conference-owned networks. An adjusted fall football schedule this year for these two major college football divisions will impact revenue and some significant fixed costs for coaches under contract and field maintenance.

Along with football, many other colleges and universities are stopping all fall sports, which further exacerbates the financial impact of collegiate athletics being cancelled.  The impact is not necessarily the same for Division III schools across the nation, since they do not rely on athletics for revenue, and they don’t have significant coaching contract expenses negatively weighing their financials. Division III schools do, however, rely on tuition revenue from athletes. Studies have shown that for more than 400 Division III schools, one out of every six students participates in varsity sports (Zimpher and Mariner 2020). Many of these schools use athletics as a recruiting strategy to increase enrollment, which now may be significantly impacted in the coming year.

A modified or curtailed schedule of collegiate sports in the fall will certainly impact colleges and universities in the United States. Financial results for the entire higher education industry will likely show decreases in revenue, causing financial struggles after the fall semester. Spring sports are currently being discussed as the pandemic progresses and more information becomes available to collegiate athletic decision-makers. Given the impact of the fall sport cancellations, spring seasons being cancelled will only result in additional financial struggles for the higher education industry.



Nancy Zimpher, and Jonathan Mariner. “As Big Ten and Pac-12 Cancel Their Football Seasons Because of COVID-19, College Sports Programs Are Facing a Financial Apocalypse.” MarketWatch, MarketWatch, 11 Aug. 2020,


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