Sixty days. That’s the best estimate of how much time it would take to prepare for a Penn State football season, according to Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour.
"We’ve relied on our sports science folks … what we call our performance team, our head physician, to really look at this from a health and safety standpoint,’’ Barbour said Thursday in a video conference with media members.
“For football, we think that the 60-day window is about right.’’
The number is critical. When the world emerges from COVID-19 pandemic, the revenue stream football provides will be critical to any return to normalcy in college sports and college life.
If college football is to return on or around the scheduled start of the 2020 season (Saturday, Sept. 5 for Penn State and most FBS teams),60 preparation days would begin in early July, or three months from now.
That seems optimistic. Which has raised the possibility of a shortened season, or a season beginning in October or November, or games played in empty stadiums to satisfy TV contracts.
“Football clearly drives the train from a financial standpoint,’’ Barbour said. “We’re looking at, whenever we get the ‘all-clear,’ how do we put the football season in?’’
Penn State’s athletic department, which includes 31 intercollegiate teams, is financially separate from the university and self-sustaining.
Barbour painted a relatively optimistic short-term picture of department finances.
There will be some cost savings from the current NCAA ban on in-person recruiting, and from not holding events in spring sports, which are all non-revenue generating.
There is a current halt to all on-campus construction. And over the last five profitable years, athletics has built up a cash reserve, of which Barbour said, “I wouldn’t call it robust, but it’s certainly an adequate reserve.’’
Football season tickets for 2020 are all paid for, although obviously refunds could become an issue. Barbour noted that in terms of fundraising, “our alumni and donors and fans have been terrific. We continue to receive gifts and money through a very challenging time for everyone.’’
Football ticket sales produced over $34 million in revenue in 2018, according to the university. Barbour said the season-ticket renewal rate was about what it’s been in recent years, 94%.
“We’re going to be in good shape for fiscal 2020,’’ she said. “After that, you move into the unknown.’’
Barbour is not a fan of games in empty stadiums, on the simple logic that if it’s not safe for people to be on campus or in the stadium, it can’t be safe for football players.
“One of our major principles is, we’re not coming back to campus, whether it’s students or student-athletes, until it’s safe and healthy and prudent to do so,’’ she said.
“Certainly, mechanically, it would be (feasible). Does it realistically work, given the health and safety issues? I don’t see that.’’
Spring sports athletes, having had their season taken away, have been granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA.
“They gave us all the guidance around what we’re supposed to do from a financial aid standpoint,’’ Barbour said. “So that’s done, and obviously it should just continue.’’
There are many issues, beyond that one, in the general area of eligibility. Will spring rosters be expanded? Will per-team scholarship limits be extended? Certainly, the football calendar will have to be changed if there’s going to be a 2020 season.
“I think we’re all doing about the same thing in a very uncertain environment,’’ Barbour said. “And there’s only about 10,000 of those (issues).’’