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What Postponed College Sports Seasons Could Mean For Schools And Local Businesses

Photo of USU football stadium.
Wikimedia Commons
Utah State University's football stadium will be empty this fall, after the Mountain West Conference announced Monday that the season will be postponed.

The Pac-12 announced Tuesday that it is postponing its fall sports season. It is the latest conference — behind the Mountain West and Big Sky — to delay its football seasons.

That means the University of Utah and Utah State University, members of the Pac-12 and Mountain West Conference respectively, won’t have games for any sports for the rest of 2020. Meanwhile, Southern Utah and Weber State Universities, members of the Big Sky Conference, won’t have football games. Big Sky officials have yet to make a decision on other fall sports.

The three conferences said they made the adjustments for student athletes’ health and welfare. 

John Hartwell, the athletic director at USU, said they can afford to push games to spring, but he thinks the department might run into financial trouble if the season is cancelled all together. 

“We had already trimmed back our budget by about $3 million,” Hartwell said. “We will continue to drill down to see where we can save, but part of the challenge is if we will be able to recoup some of those revenues.”

The department’s financial burden would be tied in-part or fully to the lack of revenue from football games, according to Hartwell. He said they make a profit from ticket sales, television contracts, corporate sponsorships and donations. 

In a letter to fans, the University of Utah acknowledged the decision by the Pac-12 “presents a significant disruption to so many of our student-athletes across multiple sport programs.”

University of Utah officials said they have been working for months with medical experts but ultimately determined the data doesn’t support fall seasons.

But for Southern Utah University, it generally doesn’t profit on football seasons, according to Nate Esplin, the associate athletic director for finance. 

Esplin said most years the department aims to break even. He said now that games are cancelled, there are no operating expenses tied to the season, and they can defer expenses like equipment purchases. 

“We have our work cut out for us to adjust our expenses and spending accordingly,” he said. “We will try to work to balance out the lost revenue through those expense reductions.”

Esplin said about 4% of SUU’s budget is dedicated to the athletic department, which goes towards things like scholarships and salaries. 

But no fall sports season means no tailgating or live games on TV at local sports bars.

John Stein is the owner of Steiny’s Family Sports Grill, with two locations in Ogden. He said he’s already had to close a location in Logan due COVID-19. Now,with the threat of no fall sports, his business could take another hit.

“We look at our high time when college football and the NFL is going back to season,” Stein said. “If they don't start our business will be drastically affected in a negative way.”

Stein estimates that the restaurant is 40-50% busier during football season. He said without college football, he’ll have to adjust his business plan.

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