Hey everybody, thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
Earlier this week, I recorded a long podcast with my good friends at Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody about how COVID-19 may impact college athletics financials, from big schools to tiny schools. I consider PAPN perhaps the biggest intellectual inspiration for starting Extra Points, so it’s always a treat when I get to hop on with my pals, although next time I hope it isn’t to talk about something kind of grim. If you like this newsletter, you’ll like PAPN.
A few ADs are starting to talk about how they project the financial impact to their institutions, but there’s still so much that isn’t known. It isn’t clear how much of a hit each school may suffer from tuition, board or state support cuts. It isn’t clear how big a drag this will be on season ticket sales or alumni donations (it will almost certainly be A drag). It also isn’t clear how long the country will be on a quasi-quarantine, or what the federal response will be.
I’ve seen a few ADs say that the immediate financial losses from spring sports being canceled may not be too bad, since the savings from not flying baseball, track and softball teams everywhere more than offsets the lost revenue. For many schools outside of the South, I think that may very well be true. But without additional clarity on those other questions, or how (or when) the NCAA may handle NCAA Tournament payouts, I think anything more conclusive would be very difficult.
If we end up losing a football season though, I think it’s fair to say the results could be disastrous for even moderately well-capitalized athletic departments. Via CBS:
Asked to consider a season without college football, one Power Five athletic director said, "We'd end up cutting sports. We'd be firing people."
I’ll be monitoring this over the next few weeks, since I’m sure it’s going to continue to be a massive story.
But let’s quickly chat about something that DOESN’T directly relate to COVID-19. Let’s talk about another potential D1 “expansion team”.
Boy it sure looks like the University of New Haven is going to go D1
I realize this isn’t totally breaking news. The school hired former Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger back in September, and the headlines made it seem like bringing in a former P5 AD was done in the hopes of raising the school’s athletic profile.
The school also apparently commissioned Collegiate Consulting to prepare a feasibility study on what a D1 transition would require. Collegiate Consulting compared UNH’s current athletic department with schools in the ASUN and the Northeast conference, two potential D1 landing spots, (based on the ASUN’s expansion plan, it seems the Northeast would be a much safer bet) and stated that UNH would need to increase their athletic budget by $4.5 million.
It isn’t clear how much money would be required in facility improvements, or do join a league, buyout their current conference membership, or other assorted costs, since Collegiate Consulting didn’t share the full study (do you have it? Share it with me at Matt.Brown@SBNation.com). One editorial published in the CT Journal by Michael Gargano Jr, the CEO of The Education Think Tank suggested that UNH’s costs “will approach $200 million” to bring the facilities and Title IX department into D1 compliance. That’s a lot of money. Hell, it’s more than UNH’s endowment. It’s almost what UNH spends for an entire year, total.
So here’s the question. Why do this?
It is possible to jump from DII to DI and enjoy basketball success pretty quickly. Merrimack, after all, won the dang NEC this season, in their first year of D1 play, and they were reasonably competitive against NEC opponents in football. The NEC is usually not that great an athletic conference. Just one FCS team cracked the top 190 in Sagarin ratings last year, and the league is usually near the bottom of non-HBCU men’s basketball conferences.
So if the performance and investment of peer institutions is any guide, the chances of UNH catching fire, making a March Madness run or a run deep into the FCS playoffs, are pretty slim. Achieving enough athletic success to trigger Flutie Effect bonuses does not seem particularly realistic. Going 19-12 and winning the NEC Tournament is not going to suddenly attract a bunch of kids who got 32s on their ACTs.
Geography doesn’t really seem to be in UNH’s favor either. The bulk of their athletic rosters, right now, come from the Northeast, a region of the country that doesn’t produce a ton of great athletic talent, and may be oversaturated at the FCS/Low D1 level. UNH would also be the fourth D1 program within 20 miles of campus. Yale, of course, is just down the road, and Quinnipiac is about 15 miles north. Sacred Heart is about 20 miles west. New Haven isn’t that big and isn’t well known to be a hotbed of college athletics fandom. Can this region financially support that many programs?
The only rationale I can really think of for making this investment is that UNH thinks it can help drive enrollment. The school has grown fairly significantly over the last 20 years, and perhaps D1 athletics, in their view, would be a more effective marketing tool than billboards, or direct advertising, or notable scholarship, or any of the other things schools do.
B. David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University, does not seem to buy this argument.
I think that’s probably accurate. I’d imagine a school making the D1 jump would have a stronger argument if they were trying to serve a market that was probably underserved in college athletic entertainment options…maybe a school in the deep south, where everybody is a college football fan, or in California, or elsewhere in the West. The Northeast would probably be the last place I would suggest.
But hey, it’s not all bad. UNH has a blue football field!
I’ve changed my mind. Now, this is all worth it. Boise, schedule the New Haven University Chargers, or be considered COWARDS FOREVER.
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I’m catching up on emails now, but you can send feasibility reports, mailbag questions, interview requests, angry missives and more to MattBrownOhio@gmail.com, or to @MattBrownEP on Twitter dot com. I’ll read them once my kids go to bed.