The Big Ten’s stated reason for its football about face was the availability of reliable, daily COVID-19 testing. Under the surface, however, there are hundreds of millions riding on even an abbreviated college football season.
Wednesday’s announcement followed a tumultuous five weeks for the 14-school conference, a stretch that included public in-fighting, parent protests, a lawsuit by players and pressure from President Donald Trump.
The end result is that one of the most prominent—and wealthiest—leagues in college sports will attempt to squeeze in a 2020 regular season with hopes of making the four-team playoff. Here’s how the Big Ten’s finances generally match up against the rest of top-tier college football:
The most import item is media rights. Big Ten schools received more than $661.3 million in media payments across all sports in 2018-19, according to data that the public schools submit annually to the NCAA. That figure includes payments from the league’s long-term contracts with Fox, ESPN and CBS, each school’s share of March Madness payouts, and other media revenue. That was roughly 29% of the media money paid across all of FBS in 2018-19, according to Sportico’s database.
It’s unclear exactly how a shortened season will impact that money, but it’s safe to assume that both the league and its partners will work together on a compromise of some sort.
Other revenue will be much less stable. Big Ten schools sold more than $274.2 million in football tickets in 2018, a number that will drop precipitously. They also brought in $228.5 million in total donations, some of which was directly tied to football tickets. The status of annual giving is one of the biggest unknowns facing college administrators, as donors have more motivation to support their schools, but also may have financial struggles of their own.
Another piece of the college football economy that won’t look the same this year: guarantee games. Big Ten schools paid $35.4 million to smaller schools to fill their non-conference schedule. Those games won’t happen, likely leading to a series of negotiations about what gets paid, what gets rescheduled and what gets nullified.
President Trump’s public comments aren’t the only way this pandemic-disrupted football season is mixing with politics. The chart below shows all 130 FBS schools, separated by who is and who isn’t playing football. The data can be viewed by each state’s political leaning, or by the severity of its COVID-19 cases.
Most Big Ten schools fall in major political battleground states, including potential 2020 election swing states. A recent poll published by Just the News that shows conservatives are far more likely to be in favor of sports returning to action than liberals, and more than half of the schools whose seasons remain canceled lie in blue-leaning states, compared to just 13 of the 91 schools playing.
States that are home to Big Ten schools are a mixed bag when it comes to COVID-19 cases per capita over the past 10 days. In Illinois and Indiana, daily case counts have fallen over the past several weeks, whereas in Wisconsin, cases have spiked. With the exception of Wisconsin and Iowa, however, the Big Ten states have not been hit as hard by COVID-19 as those with SEC schools, although several southern states, such as Texas, Florida and Georgia have seen daily new cases decline recently.