TUSCALOOSA — In the days following the NCAA and SEC decisions to cancel all remaining spring sports events through the end of the 2019-20 academic calendar due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne has had plenty on his mind.
Key among them has been the emotional toil such decisions had on the many Crimson Tide student-athletes that had their 2020 seasons unceremoniously ripped away, especially those seniors that remain uncertain if they’ve played their final games in an Alabama uniform.
“You know, you feel for them,” Byrne said during a teleconference with local reporters Thursday. “One of the things we sometimes forget, and I have to remember myself, is physically you look at these kids and … the work and energy and effort that goes into that, to see that taken away from them, it’s heartbreaking.”
Of course, there are other significant implications of the wholesale cancellations taking place across all sports due to reactions of the COVID-19 pandemic that has altered life worldwide, including from a financial perspective — even if that hasn’t necessarily taken precedence over the past week.
“Well, the financial impact, candidly, has not been at the forefront of our conversations,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday during a national teleconference. “We’ve made decisions based on the health and the well-being of people around our programs. There certainly are revenue implications (and) we have staff working through those.”
At Alabama, which remains one of the most financially prosperous athletic departments across all Division I athletics despite running a temporary deficit of $21.2 million this past 2019 fiscal year, that monetary impact is still yet to be fully determined.
“We’re studying, which we do constantly, we study different economic scenarios, so we’re currently doing that, and we’re talking about some new realities,” Byrne said. “But I don’t have any data beyond from what we think from an NCAA standpoint will be the impact. Everything else is too early to understand.”
According to a USA Today report last week, most collegiate athletic departments are preparing for the NCAA to be unable to provide its annual distribution to all Division I programs this upcoming fiscal year — which totaled $600 million in the last fiscal year. The same report indicated many public Division I athletic departments generally received between 2-5% of their total operating revenue from NCAA distributions, according to 2019 fiscal reports compiled by USA Today.
For Alabama — whose total operating revenue topped $177 and $164 million in 2018 and 2019, respectively, according to the program’s last two financial reports — that amounts to a potential loss of “a couple of million dollars,” according to Byrne.
“We think the NCAA Tournament part will be a couple of million dollars,” Byrne said. “That’s our best estimate at this point.”
Alabama received on average $2.4 million from the NCAA over the past five fiscal years (2015-19), including roughly $2.26 million in 2019 and $2.39 million in 2018, according to the department’s annual financial reports filed to the NCAA.
And much of that comes directly from revenue received courtesy of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, with the Crimson Tide basketball program drawing approximately $2.195 million each of the past two fiscal years (2018-19).
Over those same years, the NCAA distributed a combined $150,925 and $99,393 in 2018 and 2019, respectively, to Alabama across its other winter/spring sports that had yet to participate in NCAA postseason championship events: golf, gymnastics, softball, swimming and diving, track and field, and men’s and women’s tennis.
Also factoring into play is the potential loss of at least a portion of the record $44.6 million average revenue the SEC distributed to its 14 institutions last summer, including approximately $52 million to Alabama — roughly half of which was credited to football. Given that much of the league’s financial revenue distribution comes from contractually obligated media deals with ESPN and other partners, it’s still unclear exactly how that would be affected by the coronavirus cancellations this spring.
Of course, not having any sports over the final four months of 2019-20 academic calendar could also mean less expenses, especially when it comes to travel costs.
Alabama spent approximately $6.9 and $7.4 million in team travel over the past two fiscal years (2018 and 2019, respectively), according to its annual NCAA financial statements, though between 30-40 percent of those costs (roughly $2-3 million in 2018-19) can be attributed to football travel, which won’t be affected by the spring play stoppage.
“Yeah, that’s one of the things we’ve tried to evaluate, expenses that we’d normally have in the spring with our spring sports and recruiting and everything else that goes on, what type of savings will be there, will we be able to have from that,” Byrne said. “And we don’t know what that would be yet but we’re working on that.”
Like other SEC programs and the conference office itself, Alabama has already begun the process of refunding season- and single-game tickets for all remaining baseball and softball games, as well as refunding already-purchased tickets for the SEC softball tournament that was scheduled to be held at Rhoads Stadium in early May.
During his conference call with reporters Wednesday, Sankey said a standing conference committee is already in discussion about what to do about upcoming sites for the league’s championship tournaments, including softball, but expressed confidence it wouldn’t take another full rotation before Tuscaloosa hosts another SEC softball tournament.
Byrne shared a similar confidence, though admitted that would be for future conversations.
“We’ve had brief conversations. My hope is that we can host it sooner than later, (and) not have to go back in the rotation,” Byrne said. “Because of all the other things that have been spoken (about), we haven’t had a lot of in-depth discussion about it, but I think that would be a reasonable approach. … I would think that we’re going to try to have some recognition of these very unique circumstances, and I think that will be part of the decision making. We just haven’t gotten there yet.”