Former Florida AD Jeremy Foley weighs in on potential impact of COVID-19 on college athletics
College sports are facing an uncertain future with the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial coronavirus outbreak led to a complete shutdown of all spring sports in March. Universities allowed student-athletes to return for voluntary workouts, but those have been paused at multiple programs due to spikes in positive tests. Recently, the Big Ten and Pac-12 have announced conference-only schedules for the 2020 fall semester sports slate, including football. The news has some fans worried that conference-only is the first “domino” that may ultimately lead to the cancelation of fall sports.
Former Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley recently weighed in on the current college sports situation in an interview with Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel. Foley offered some insight into how athletic directors prepare for uncertainty.
After discussing the importance of college football to an athletics department, Foley was asked about programs that are carrying debt while trying to upgrade facilities. His weather analogy for the situation may worry some sports fans.
“It’s similar to if somebody lost their job and is trying to figure out how to pay their mortgage,” Foley told Bianchi. “Most major college programs have healthy reserves to get through the tough times. I think you can piece it together [and stay afloat]. You have those reserves to get you through a rainy day, but, obviously, this isn’t a rainy day; this is a hurricane.”
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Foley maintains that college sports will ultimately get through the pandemic but not without changes:
“I go back to 2008 and the last time we had a financial crisis. It was a lot harder to raise money back then. I think that’s certainly going to be the fallout here as well. People who don’t have jobs or have had to take pay cuts and furloughs, they have responsibilities in their own lives and are going to be more protective of their money. Even before the pandemic, I felt one of the biggest challenges in college athletics was maintaining your fan base.
“… Television has changed the way people consume sports, and the pandemic will have obvious ramifications as well. Stadiums may need to shrink a little bit. I think 90,000 and 100,000-seat stadiums are a thing of the past.
“But college athletics has survived a lot and is so much a part of the fabric of this county. It’s not going away; it just may need to be different.”
The full interview with Foley, with more of his thoughts on programs being cut or shut down, can be read here.