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Former BYU AD: Economic Impact Of No College Football Could Be Felt Well Beyond Campuses

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Concerns about the potential health impacts and risks of playing fall football in the COVID-19 pandemic may have driven decisions by the Pac-12 and Big Ten until at least the spring, but the economics of those decisions remained top of mind Tuesday on the campuses and in the communities they affect.

With FBS schools Utah and Utah State and FCS members Weber State and Southern Utah sidelined by conference decisions to postpone football, BYU was still believed to be working on filling out a fall schedule that had been reduced in recent days to three games.

Val Hale, former BYU athletic director and current executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said the economic impact of not playing football in 2020 could be significant for athletics programs across the country.

“It will be a big hit if many of these schools can’t play football,” Hale said. “For those that are really strapped, it could mean that they’re going to end up cutting some programs, cutting budgets wherever they can, probably cutting staff — it’ll be tough.”

Hale noted Stanford’s recent decision to cut 11 varsity sports programs.

“It’s not just football ticket sales — it’s donors, it’s other people who are willing to support the program, it’s TV revenue and I don’t know how all that’s impacted but it can’t be positive when you’re not playing games,” Hale said.

Hale said even though BYU has traditionally approached its athletic budget more conservatively, no football in Provo would also pose potential problems.

“Even then, it’s still going to be difficult to make ends meet and to balance the budget if you don’t have football behind it,” Hale said.

While it remains unclear how much Utah’s universities and the surrounding communities will be affected, Hale acknowledged the impact could extend beyond college campuses.

“A lot depends on the school and what type of out-of-area fans come to the games,” Hale said. “There was a time in the early 1980s when about one-quarter of (BYU’s) season ticket holders came from out-of-state, so obviously hotel rooms restaurants — there was a lot of benefit to playing those games. Albeit it’s only six times a year, but still it’s a big deal. For schools where the fans are more local, it will impact — probably within a 5-mile radius of the stadium — it’ll have a negative impact for restaurants specifically.”

University of Utah athletic director Mark Harlan issued a statement Tuesday acknowledging the Pac-12’s decision to postpone all fall sports and noting that the school’s primary concern remained for the health and well-being of student-athletes.

“Our attention will continue to focus on providing for the academic, emotional and physical well-being of our student-athletes,” the statement read. “They will continue to prepare for their upcoming academic semester, and they will continue to have the same access to our first-class medical care, mental health care, academic support, nutrition and meals and scholarship support. We are also working closely with the Pac-12 and the NCAA to address questions regarding eligibility.”

While most conferences who have postponed fall football have left open the possibility of the sport returning in the spring, Hale acknowledged numerous questions loomed about the feasibility as it relates to the NFL Draft in late April and also college athletes playing 20 to 25 football games in a single calendar year.

“It would conflict with some of the other spring sports, but I don’t think that would stop some schools,” Hale said. “There again, what do bowl games do? Do bowl games move to June? Or do you just skip the bowl games and just play for the conference championship? It would pose some really interesting challenges.”

Both the ACC and SEC issued statements Tuesday that affirmed their continued progress toward fall football, while the Big 12 reportedly planned to proceed while adding protocols related to heart imaging tests for COVID-19 patients.

The former BYU AD said he would be especially surprised if the SEC decided not to play.

“I still cannot fathom the SEC pulling the plug,” he said. “I mean, that’s like religion for them down there. I think they will play unless there’s absolutely no way to do it.”

Hale predicted some football will ultimately be played this fall.

“I hope that somebody can figure out a way to play some games,” Hale said. “I think many people in the country are excited for college football and the excitement that it brings.”

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