comscore Ferd Lewis: Prospect of lost college football season raises concern | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Ferd's Words | Sports

Ferd Lewis: Prospect of lost college football season raises concern

To the list of dire projections about the impact of COVID-19 on college athletics, Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson sounded his own chilling alarm Monday.

“The matter of the fact is, if there is no college football this fall there’s very little likelihood there will be any other sports because 85% of the revenue derived in college athletics comes from the sport of football,” Thompson said in a brief video released to the media by the conference office.

Scary stuff to be sure. As it was clearly intended to be.

But also maybe not completely applicable to the University of Hawaii, whose football team competes in the Mountain West while most of the Rainbow Wahine and Rainbow Warrior teams play in the Big West. Leagues apart, as it were.

Football is UH’s biggest breadwinner, but at considerably less than 85% of the budget, even when you take in direct and indirect funding. The 85% figure seems to better describe the well-to-do Power 5 conference schools with mega-millions from TV contracts and lion’s share of the bowl and playoff money, than the mid-majors such as UH and its MWC peers, who get the table scraps.

Make no mistake about it, though, if a football season scheduled to kick off in 130 days isn’t at least played in some form, however abbreviated, even if it is conference games only sans at least some fans in the stands, there will be hemorrhage of red ink at UH and elsewhere.

And, if there is no football, presumably there would also be no Rainbow Wahine volleyball, the other fall revenue sport, which would be a double whammy at the bank.

But a financial reason to cancel the the remainder of the sports, even if there was a safe and healthy return for players and coaches? Hardly.

Unlike its brethren in the MWC, UH’s men’s volleyball and baseball teams generate revenue. They don’t turn a profit, but they do remarkably better than the vast majority of others across the country.

For example, last year’s Rainbow Warrior men’s volleyball led the nation in accumulated attendance, nearly doubling the second-place school, Brigham Young. Last year UH baseball drew the third highest of schools west of Texas, doubling the top MWC school, Fresno State.

Just three schools in the Big West play football, UH, on the Football Bowl Subdivision level, and Cal Poly and UC Davis as members of the Football Championship Subdivision.

“Obviously, with eight of our 11 institutions not (offering) football, I don’t see the same impact on our membership if football is not played,” Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell said in a text.

For one thing, the Big West is largely a bus league in that, except for the trip to and from Hawaii, they can take buses or vans to their games and matches. And UH underwrites those.

Meanwhile, in the MWC you’re sending teams from Fresno to Wyoming and San Jose State to New Mexico, so the costs pile up. Which is one reason the MWC didn’t want UH in anything but football and the ‘Bows were glad to find a home in the Big West.

These are uncertain and even desperate times around college athletics, as they are on so many fronts. Times that call for safe and sane solutions arrived at through reasoned dialogue.

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