If FBS conferences go to league-only games, the FCS goes without substantial revenue in a year during which that money would be particularly helpful.
The Big Ten on Thursday announced that if its members can play football this season, they will play only league opponents. The Pac-12 followed suit Friday. Those moves are expected to prompt a string of other FBS conferences to do the same thing during the pandemic.
William & Mary, which was supposed to play at Stanford, won’t get a check for $650,000.
For Virginia’s other FCS programs, what would that mean in terms of lost guarantee incomes?
Richmond ($500,000) at Pittsburgh, James Madison ($500,000) at North Carolina, VMI ($375,000) at Virginia, Hampton ($190,000) at Old Dominion, Norfolk State ($300,000) at East Carolina, and Norfolk State ($275,000) at Charlotte are all in jeopardy.
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The coronavirus already sliced college sports budgets in a notable way. The 2020 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was scheduled to result in a distribution of about $600 million to 350 Division I schools. Its cancellation means the pool shrinks to $225 million, with $50 million of that coming from NCAA reserves.
Conferences, at all levels, made various cost-cutting moves for the 2020-21 academic year in response to the decrease in NCAA-distributed funds.
The pandemic also will decrease enrollment at colleges across the country, meaning reduced fiscal support for athletics departments.
The absence of FBS guarantees “would have a significant financial impact on a lot of [FCS] programs,” according to Tom Yeager, the CAA commissioner from 1985 to 2016. “FCS football is not on the positive side of the ledger, and so that [guarantee] narrows that gap. It takes some of the pressure off.”
FCS programs don’t benefit from major television revenue, heavy ticket sales or bowl payouts.
“I would like to play one every year, no question,” UR coach Russ Huesman said regarding FBS opposition. “I think it helps in a lot of different ways, from recruiting, to budget, to the experience for your players to go play those games.”
These guarantees FBS programs pay FCS programs have increased significantly through the years. The Spiders would receive guarantees from about $25,000 to $40,000 back in the 1980s, according to Chuck Boone, a former UR director of athletics. In 2000, Richmond played a pair of FBS games, at Virginia ($250,000) and at Arkansas State ($100,000), where the Spiders won.
JMU received $400,000 for its 2011 game at North Carolina.
The Spiders played at Duke in 2011, at Virginia in 2012, at N.C. State in 2013 and at Virginia in 2014. With each of those games came a guarantee of between $250,000 and $350,000.
If UR does not play at Pittsburgh, this wouldn’t be the first time in recent history that Richmond did not face an FBS opponent. The Spiders didn’t meet one in 2017 after being dropped unexpectedly by Boston College, which made up for that with multiple games against UR in basketball.
Before 2017, Richmond had played an FBS opponent every season since 2003.