More than 100 games have been cancelled or postponed during this college football season, a grim milestone that shows the cost of the sport’s top tier pushing forward with games amid the pandemic.
After a trickle at the start of the season, disruptions have become more and more common. There were 17 last week alone, the most in a single week so far, and cases are on the rise nationally. There are two weeks left in the regular season before conference title games, bowl games and the four-team College Football Playoff.
Cancelled or postponed games cause all sorts of financial headaches for conferences, teams and their TV partners. In the Pac-12, games that aren’t paid cost the conference nearly $5 million apiece in TV money—it’s lost nine but managed to create three from scratch. (One of those games, Saturday’s showdown between Utah and Washington, went from previously unscheduled to ABC’s national primetime game because of other cancellations.)
There are smaller costs, too. Clemson spent $300,000 to travel to Florida State earlier this month for a game that didn’t happen. Lower-profile FBS schools that rely on guarantee games have lost some of those payments. And though no one is operating at full capacity, some schools are allowing upwards of 20% fan attendance, so ticket revenue is being lost as well.
The disruptions will also dramatically affect the playoff, which distributes around $500 million each year to schools and conferences. Though that total is expected to drop, there’s still a healthy chunk of payout money, and prestige, that comes from the national championship game, and cancelled games could jeopardize some schools.
For example, Ohio State is No. 4 in the first official Playoff rankings, but it’s lost two games due to COVID and has paused all team activities because of a rise in cases within the program. If it loses one of its final two games, the team would be ineligible to play in the Big Ten title game (No. 16 Wisconsin is already ineligible). How then would the Playoff selection committee treat a 5-0 Ohio State team?
It’s just one of myriad questions awaiting the final few weeks of this unprecedented college football season.