BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — As Power Five conferences scramble this week to adjust schedules in an effort to keep college football afloat this fall, the impact is being felt on school athletic programs throughout Indiana.
Due to increasing COVID-19 cases nationally this summer, the Big Ten already announced it will only play conference games, a move that affected the schedules of Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and Ball State.
On Wednesday, Notre Dame announced it will play a 10-game ACC schedule to make up for lost games against Wisconsin, Stanford and USC (the Pac-12 also is playing conference-only games this season). Ball State lost a pair of games against Indiana and Michigan and guarantees that amounted to $1.7 million in revenue but recouped some of that sum by adding a $350,000 guarantee game against Iowa State on Sept. 12 to replace Michigan on its schedule.
Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz said the school is pursuing other teams to replace lost dates at IU (Sept. 19) and for its season-opener against Maine (Sept. 3), which along with the rest of the Colonial Athletic Association schools decided to suspend football competition this fall due to concerns surrounding the pandemic.
“We’ll continue some conversations, and I think hopefully we’ll be able to fill one of these slots or two of those slots for them to play,” Goetz said. “But there’s still a lot of moving pieces before we know if that can happen.”
Goetz said losing the projected $1.7 million Indiana and Michigan were going to provide is a blow to the athletic department’s budget, but Ball State is in position to adjust to revenue shortfalls.
“Ball State has really been great financial stewards and has really prepared well to have to navigate a time like this, and that’s true for us as well,” Goetz said. “So while we’ll have to make some adjustments, we don’t feel like — at this point — there’s not been any need to have any discussion about (cutting) sport offerings on our campus. We have some savings.”
Indiana and Purdue both project to take financial hits from the Big Ten’s decision as well. Indiana had its home football schedule this fall reduced from seven dates to five, while Purdue had its home schedule reduced from six games to four. Purdue could pick up a home game on its schedule if the Big Ten, as reported by several outlets, decides to go with a 10-game conference-only schedule with five home and road games. Indiana, though, would stay at five home dates.
For Indiana, losing two home dates would result in a loss of $15 million to $17 million in ticket, parking and concession revenue, based on the most recent figures from IU’s 2018 athletics budget. Purdue, in losing one home date, would stand to lose about $8.5 million.
Indiana has already taken steps to address budget shortfalls this summer, with football coach Tom Allen, men’s basketball coach Archie Miller and new athletic director Scott Dolson all announcing they plan to donate back 10% of their salaries to IU’s athletic department.
Allen said losing the three non-conference games – all in September against Western Kentucky (Sept. 12), Ball State (Sept. 19) and at Connecticut (Sept. 26) – will have a developmental impact on IU’s football team as well.
“Those opportunities to get ready for conference play have been very, very important for us, so you won’t have those now,” said Allen, who still supports the Big Ten’s decision. “It’s about what’s best for the players, their well-being and trying to create the best scenario possible for us to have a season.”
Another issue involving Purdue and Indiana is guaranteed payouts on game contracts. IU was due to pay Western Kentucky $1 million and Ball State $700,000 for games this season.
According to game contracts obtained by CNHI Sports Indiana through a public records request, IU has a force majeure clause in its Ball State contract that voids the payout if it becomes impossible to play the game by “reason of an unforeseen catastrophe or disaster such as fire, flood, earthquake, war, confiscation, by order of government, military or public authority or injunctive order of any competent or other judicial or other Governmental authority.”
For the Western Kentucky contract, there is an impossibility of performance clause that reads, “If an unforeseen catastrophe or disaster makes impossible the playing of the competition by either team, the competition shall be rescheduled to a mutually agreeable place, date and time, and neither team shall be responsible to the other for any loss or damage. Notice of such a catastrophe or disaster shall be given to the other team as soon as reasonably possible.”
IU’s next opening in its non-conference schedule isn’t until 2025, but games can be adjusted to fit sooner. Goetz said Ball State has already explored the option of rescheduling with IU to a future season.
“The MAC has a tremendous long-term history with the Big Ten, and so there’s great relationships there both from the league standpoint and personally,” Goetz said. “There’s a lot collegiality just between our coaches and our administrative staff.”
Purdue’s force majeure contract language in its home non-conference games with Air Force and Memphis is similar to IU’s but adds the clause “riots or civil unrest” as another potential factor in voiding the contract. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has undergone a racial reckoning and nationwide protests since George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer in May.
New York-based attorney and sports legal expert Dan Lust said force majeure clauses can be challenged in court if the wording is not specific to the reason why a contest is being canceled. Lust pointed out the NBA used to term “epidemic” in the wording in its force majeure clause in its contract with the NBA Players Association over whether players were to be paid if the season was canceled, which is the closest term to pandemic.
“It’s very much a gray area, and if games are canceled without a very clear triggering event, which would be the case of a contract that would spell out what an epidemic is, what an epidemic requires, it’s very unclear,” Lust said.
Joining the ACC this season could financially benefit Notre Dame. The Irish put their annual $15 million TV contract with NBC into the ACC revenue pot but will receive a full television revenue share from the ACC, which paid out $27 million per school this season. As a result, Notre Dame could make as much as $29 million in 2020 after making $25.2 million in TV rights deals last season.
“This is just an unprecedented and extraordinary year, and you recognize that going in,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in an interview with ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich. “Could we have constructed a schedule without this? Yes, but given the uncertainties that everybody faces, you couldn’t exactly be sure what you have. There was a greater level of control and certainty if we could do this with the ACC than if we had just constructed the schedule ourselves.”