COVID-19 has already begun to change the college sports landscape as we know it and more adjustments could be on the way soon.
Change is coming for college sports and several programs have already reached the “worst-case scenario”. Old Dominion wrestling, FIU men’s track and field, Cincinnati men’s soccer and Bowling Green baseball have all been eliminated. More cuts are likely in the coming weeks as the financial ramifications of the shutdown persist. If football seasons are impacted, things could get much worse.
With that bleak backdrop, cost savings have become increasingly important. Could schools consider splitting their sports across multiple conferences in an effort to save costs? It’s plausible.
Why it makes sense
Football is the engine that makes college athletics go. Without the revenue from the gridiron, and in some cases men’s basketball, athletic programs operate in the red. Olympic sports are a prime example of athletic competitions that don’t make money. An alternative to slashing programs from the start could be a bifurcation of conference play by sport.
College football could continue to operate in much the same way. The revenue it derives from television contracts can support a few cross country flights and the various costs associated with fielding a team. But why does Rice volleyball need to fly to Charlotte or FAU? The Owls might be better suited taking a bus to play Texas State, Sam Houston or Lamar.
More regionalized scheduling in non-football sports would cut costs and provide matchups with more appeal to local fans.
What stands in the way?
Having one school span multiple conferences wouldn’t be a first, but it would be a departure from the norm. Schools like Wichita State, a basketball member of the American Conference, don’t participate in football with the AAC schools. Notre Dame is a pseudo-football member with ACC but has retained its independent status.
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Playing football with one group of teams and other sports might seem unusual, but its far from unprecedented. Budget crunch or not, this is a solution that seems plausible and palatable for the future.
And the people say…
When the idea of regionalized scheduling started to be discussed, Rice football fans said it would change their attendance patterns. 58 percent of fans said a more regionalized schedule would cause them to attend more games, with 47 percent saying they would attend more away games if more Texas teams were added to the schedule.
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