SPORTS COLUMN: Football is King

Cross Country. Football. Men’s and Women’s Golf. Men’s and Women’s Soccer. Women’s Tennis. Volleyball. 

In a normal year, these eight sports are all played in the fall at Marshall University; however, it is anything but a normal year. Seven of the eight sports have been postponed; football stands alone. 

It is a reasonable first reaction to think it is unfair for football players to get their season in the fall while athletes from the other sports can only hope they get a season sometime later in the academic year.  

To some level, it is unfair, but when you dig deeper into the logistics of the situation, there are reasons why football is the king of college sports. 

First of all, the Marshall athletic department’s hand was forced when the Conference USA and NCAA championships were moved to the spring. Moreover, there were not a lot of possible opponents in the fall with so many moving to the spring as well.

Nevertheless, they are other factors involved that make this decision sensible from a sustainability standpoint. 

In a 2017 chart by the Business Insider, sports editor Cork Gaines and graphics editor Mike Nudelman teamed up to create a graphic that illustrated the revenue power of college football.

According to the data the two compiled from the Department of Education, the average college football revenue compiled by the 127 FBS teams at the time was $31.9 million. That figure was more than the other 35 college sports combined.  

Therefore, from a strictly revenue sense, football is superior. The money it brings into the athletic department is extremely important.

Using data collected from the 2018 season, Sports Illustrated writer Ross Dellenger took an even deeper look. He researched and plotted the profit gain and losses of each sport in the Power Five. Although Marshall is not in the Power Five, the data is still significant because the Group of Five functions similarly. 

From the data, Dellenger found that football on average had a $28.8 million profit. Men’s basketball had a $4.9 million profit, but that was where the profits halted. All the other sports had an average net loss of $17.1 million. 

Because most of a university’s sports are not money gainers, that means college football plays a huge role in keeping the other college sports afloat. 

Looking at Marshall specifically, the athletic department has actually lost money overall in each of the past three years, based on data from the College Athletics Financial Information Database. In 2019, Marshall’s athletic revenue was around the FBS average at $32.9 million, but its expenses were a tad bit more. Overall, the athletic department lost $30,322 in the 2019. 

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The largest expense for the Marshall athletic department was athletic student aid, and that is not going anywhere. So, what does the athletic department have to gain by postponing the seven fall sports other than football? 

Around the country, there are many universities completely getting rid of some sports, but it seems that Marshall and a lot of other schools are going to extend every other option before its hand is forced to that level of attrition.

By postponing the seven fall sports where a loss of money is likely to occur, especially with the added Covid-19 protocols, the athletic department can save some money. 

The main area where money will be saved is from game expenses and travel, which was the second highest expense for Marshall’s athletic department in 2018 according to the CAFI. 

Football is still able to compete because even with ticket sales sure to take a huge hit, a noteworthy profit is still likely, due mainly to media rights money. Media rights money most notably includes or is related to television revenue. 

Without a football season this year, the financial hit would be catastrophic for every sport and every athlete. Not having soccer, volleyball, golf, cross country and tennis does not financially harm the university, it essentially helps keep the athletic department stay sustainable for the time being. 

Thus, the postponement of the fall Olympic sports is a move that will more than likely save them in the long run. 

In theory, could Marshall, Conference USA and other conferences have made a fall season work for its Olympic sports with the same stringent protocols as football? Yes, but they would have taken an even bigger financial loss, which could have resulted in long-term sport cancelations.

All and all, football is the king of college sports. It not only brings in the most money, but it also takes care of the other sports, keeping most athletic departments thriving, or at least alive. 

Grant Goodrich can be contacted at [email protected]