The Pac-12’s decision to play football this fall comes eight days after the Big Ten did its own football about-face. Much like the Big Ten, the West Coast-based conference cited the availability of rapid result COVID-19 testing in its decision to play, but the financial incentives are numerous.
While the Pac-12 is not as prominent a football conference as the Big Ten, it still carries the Power 5 designation, and with it, hundreds of millions of dollars riding on even an abbreviated college football season. Here’s how the Pac-12’s finances generally match up against the Big Ten, and with the rest of top-tier college football:
The biggest revenue source for the universities in regards to football comes from media rights. Pac-12 schools received more than $310 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 and ESPN, each school’s share of March Madness payouts and other media revenue. The total is less than half of the Big Ten’s roughly $660 million, but still accounted for approximately 14% 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. Pac-12 schools sold more than $120 million in football tickets in 2018, a number that will no doubt drop steeply. They also brought in $197.5 million in total donations, some of which was directly tied to football tickets. Though donors may be more motivated to support their schools in hard times, many may also face financial struggles of their own, making the status of annual giving one of the biggest unknowns facing college administrators.
The Pac-12’s membership includes schools in cities with varying state or local policies regarding COVID-19 precautions, some of which are highly restrictive. So while states like Utah and Arizona were open to returning to action several weeks ago, others—like Oregon and California—were still locked down in a way that didn’t allow for large athletics practices, with schools in the Bay Area facing the strongest resistance from local leadership. The conference’s three most profitable football programs, however, are not from the state of California.
The map below shows all 130 FBS schools, separated by those that are or are not playing football this fall, with each state’s color representing the severity of its COVID-19 cases.
In California, daily new cases have decreased over the past several weeks after spikes occurred earlier in the summer (Los Angeles County has reported the most cumulative deaths of any county outside of New York City). In Oregon and Washington, case counts continue to remain relatively low, while Utah, on the other hand, saw an all-time high in new cases just last week on Sept. 18. More generally, the Pac-12 states have not been hit as hard by COVID-19 per capita as those with SEC schools, although some southern states, such as Florida and Louisiana, have seen daily new cases decline recently.