FARGO — The invisible enemy that has taken over the world may become a visible enemy to the North Dakota State athletic department budget. Nine weeks after the country began a shutdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers are getting real.
For instance, if Bison football plays only Missouri Valley Football Conference games next fall, it would be at least a $3 million hit in revenue to the NDSU budget that this year is $24.8 million. And that doesn’t include losing a $650,000 guarantee if the football game at the University of Oregon on Sept. 5 is canceled.
Then there is a second scenario going through the mind of NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen. What if the entire season is axed?
“I think any and all of those scenarios are really damaging potentially to our athletics budget just because football drives so much of our revenue,” Larsen said.
Specifically, it drives 75 to 80% of ticket revenue. This fall, NDSU is budgeting $3.65 million in football season ticket sales and $500,000 for single-game tickets. Seating obligations at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome are earmarked for $5 million.
If two home nonconference football games are removed from those figures, and fans subsequently pay a prorated number, “that’s pretty significant,” Larsen said.
That also doesn’t include potential losses in media rights and corporate sponsorships. On the other side, NDSU wouldn't have to pay nonconference opponents Drake University (Iowa) and North Carolina A&T a guarantee, but that wouldn't nearly offset the lack of games.
The University of Minnesota over the weekend released three potential outcomes of the pandemic: A $10 million loss in revenues if football is played in its entirety, a potential $30 million loss if games are played with no fans or the season is shortened in some way or a $75 million cut if there are no sports played in 2020.
Minnesota has a total athletic budget of $123 million. At almost $100 million less, Larsen said he foresees next year’s NDSU budget being at least $800,000 less than this year’s figures.
“And that’s if things go well,” he said.
There were some cuts NDSU had in mind already with the loss of NCAA distribution funds when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was canceled in March. The check was $600,000 less than NDSU expected.
Accounting for that loss included cost-saving measures ranging from limiting professional development to delays in hiring and replacing other positions. Summer school for student-athletes on scholarship may not happen.
“We’ll at least have some one-time adjustments going into next year and trying to bridge the gap until the NCAA revenue is reinstated,” Larsen said.
The NDSU fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30. Larsen said he’ll have a better idea in the next three to four weeks on what a finalized budget will look like. He also said there could be a “grace period” as far as the timeline of a final budget because of the current COVID-19 situation.
Larsen said NDSU is not cutting salaries for coaches and administrators. Moreover, Larsen said other schools have done that for the purpose of meeting this year’s budget, something NDSU has already done.
“You’re seeing a lot of places doing it to try and salvage this year’s current budget,” Larsen said. “We feel pretty good about wrapping up this current fiscal year budget that we’re in. But as we move forward into next year, depending on if we do hit some of those worst-case scenarios, we’ll have to look at everything at that point.”
NCAA president Mark Emmert on Sunday told ESPN that athletics in the fall will not happen if students aren’t allowed on campus. The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education in April voted unanimously in favor of an intent to return students to campus in the fall.
That doesn’t necessarily mean all of NDSU’s football opponents will have ruling boards with a similar philosophy. Last week, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown released a statement saying large gatherings may be prohibited through September.
If that holds true, the Bison and Ducks could still play in a nearly-empty Autzen Stadium and NDSU would still collect the $650,000 guarantee check.
But if it doesn’t happen, that would be felt throughout the entire Bison athletic department. The dome seats 18,700, with NDSU averaging 17,440 fans per game in 2019 that ranked the school fifth in FCS attendance figures.
“The biggest potential for us from a budget standpoint is if there is any adjustment to the football season,” Larsen said.