A Big (Ten) loss

CBJ Editorial

First came the COVID-19 pandemic, then the destructive derecho storm, and now the loss of the University of Iowa’s fall football season.

“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement announcing the season’s postponement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion … it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”

Big-time college football programs are often criticized for being focused primarily on money, so the statement by Mr. Warren must be true, considering that the enormous financial impact of losing football for each school and the Big Ten overall. BTN, the conference’s television network, had a media rights deal worth $1 billion with Fox Sports.

The decision couldn’t have been made lightly considering the staggering economic impact to the universities, communities like Iowa City and Coralville, and regions like the Corridor.

“The impact to the community for the loss of a season is north of $120 million. That’s just to the community … so over and above the reported $70 million loss to UI,” said Josh Schamberger, president of Think Iowa City, in an emailed statement. “It’s a devastating hit to our community, region and state. Without another PPP-like stimulus plan I am really not sure how many service sector businesses will be able to survive this decision.”

Even UI Head Wrestling Coach Tom Brands has publicly joked that he knows where his bread is buttered, and that’s with the UI football program’s success and impact.

According to a news report, the UI reported $53.8 million in NCAA and conference contributions for its 2020 budget year, followed — in terms of revenue generators — by football-income of $22.3 million and donations of $17.2 million, according to state documents.

The UI ranked No. 14 in the nation among top revenue generating athletic programs with nearly $152 million in revenues and $146 million in expenses for the years 2018 and 2019, according to an analysis by USA Today.

The trickle-down effect of UI football games cannot be overstated. Hotels, restaurants, tailgating, gas stations, apparel sales, and general publicity for the UI football games make the total amount immense, and it is scary to think that it can’t be recouped in a simple way.

“All of our downtown locations thrive during Iowa football. It’s the busiest season for all of our downtown locations and can make or break our year,” said Matt Swift, who owns or has a stake in some of the Corridor’s most successful eating and drinking establishments, including Big Grove, Pullman Bar & Diner, Mosley’s and Saint Burch Tavern. “We understand the Big Ten’s decision to cancel, but it would be a lie to say that losing the football season doesn’t hurt us.”

Many businesses have so far survived the COVID-19 pandemic and the derecho. Let’s do what we can to see that they also survive the loss of UI football, and hope it is enough. CBJ