Sports’ COVID-related woes could linger into 2023

CLOSE

SportsPulse: COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on much of the U.S. economy. How has it impacted college football coaches? According to our annual coaches compensation database, head coaches at power 5 conferences haven’t taken a a big hit.

USA TODAY

While some college sports administrators are hoping that the large-scale financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a one-year proposition, an NCAA senior executive says the struggles probably will linger into 2023.

Chief medical officer Brian Hainline’s cautionary predictions about the future included making no assumptions that NCAA championships — including basketball’s Final Four — will be held as currently scheduled.

He also addressed prospects relating not only to athletics but also to higher education in general. He said 20% to 30% of the NCAA’s Division III schools may close entirely.

In addition, he indicated that — as in other parts of society — athletics programs that have the money to carry out COVID testing will be able to move forward while those that do not will have difficulty doing so. And while he hopes NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision schools will remain philosophically committed to maintaining the current minimum sport-sponsorship requirement of 16 teams (the requirement for Division I membership is 14), financial issues may prompt the membership to enact a reduction.

“It’s not going to be easy” for schools to maintain their current numbers of teams, Hainline said. “I mean, these economic realities are — they’re stark.”

NCAA member schools could face another two years or longer of financial uncertainty because of the pandemic, according to chief medical officer Brian Hainline. (Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Hainline’s comments came during a pre-recorded panel discussion presented Friday by the Aspen Institute as part of its annual Project Play Summit. The discussion was titled “Rethinking the ROI of Youth Sports,” as was aimed at the trend of colleges cutting teams due to impacts from the pandemic, what the future looks like and how that could affect athletes aspiring to play college sports.

Database: How much money each college football coach is making

Responding to a broad question about the future from Aspen Sports and Society Program executive director Tom Farrey, Hainline said: “There’s going to be a lot of challenges going forward with championships. So, there’s a revenue model there and the revenues are not coming in. But I think if we take a step back — and I think we need to — it’s not even about cutting sports. We’re probably at a place where 20% to 30% of Division III schools may not survive this pandemic. And that’s a whole other thing that we need to think seriously about.”

Asked more specifically to predict what may happen over the next five years, Hainline said: “Most of the financial projections — and it’s not just for the NCAA, it’s for schools, it’s for theater — is that things will probably start turning around in 2023. And so that seems like a long way away. And it really is.

“But,