As the start of the high school sports season appears increasingly likely to be delayed, high school activity directors are having to take a hard look at what that means for the bottom line.
For most schools, when you say “budget,” the next word is inevitably “football.” Many schools rely on their football programs — through ticket sales and booster associations — to finance the rest of the athletic department.
“[Football is] the reason we’re able to operate at a level that would allow us to buy things that all of our teams need or want,” said Chris Brown, the athletic director at J.R. Tucker High School. “To not have it would really put a cramp in the things we’re able to provide centrally as an athletic department. There’s no question about that.”
Brown said other sports fundraise, essentially covering the cost of their own equipment, uniforms and officials, but football is really the big-ticket item.
If the VHSL executive committee’s current favorite option is chosen — meaning fall seasons would be pushed to early spring and abbreviated — the financial loss would vary greatly between the schools. It depends on how the schedule is rearranged.
Armstrong High School has most of its home games early in the season, with more away games later on.
If the schedule remained the same and the early games were cut, Armstrong would lose revenue from ticket sales while still paying the transportation costs for away games.
At Tucker, Brown and his staff haven’t looked too closely about what each option would mean for the department financially, but expects those conversations to come up soon.
He expects, without football, Tucker would rely on more department-wide fundraisers.
“We have an athletic booster association that helps us quite a bit,” Brown said. “It does a lot of fundraising for us. It would become even more important for us, if that’s even possible.”
They have yet to have in-depth discussions on where cuts would be made if they were necessary.
For Maggie Walker Governor’s School, the lack of football isn’t a concern — it was never there to begin with. It’s one of the few public high schools in the area without a team.
While other schools may be scrambling to make ends meet, Maggie Walker’s athletic budget won’t take as severe of a hit, because it isn’t built on ticket revenue.
None of the Green Dragons’ sports bring in a huge amount of money at the gate. Most of the department is funded through the school budget and a parent-organized booster association.
“My director and I both agree that the option that moves the seasons to December — basically moving the seasons to a later date — is the best option for us financially and equitably,” said activities director Paige Hawkins. “It would still allow everybody to get to participate.”
Tennis and soccer — both spring sports — are the two biggest moneymakers for Maggie Walker, meaning that pushing the season back wouldn’t be too big of an issue from a revenue standpoint.
No one was blindsided by the decision. Schools have been in contact with regents and have had multiple VHSL meetings over the summer.
The final decision will be made on July 27. Regardless of what that decision is, Brown said J.R. Tucker will be ready to take the decision in stride and weather the financial repercussions.
“Every school is different,” Brown said. “Tucker High School specifically, financially we’re in an OK place. You don’t necessarily build a budget to plan for something as chaotic as this, but I always try to have an eye on emergencies and this falls under that category. We do try to have some sort of a fallback in case we have something we don’t anticipate.”
It may come from penny pinching and cuts, fundraising and booster organizations, or maybe even a spring football season, but the athletic directors made their priorities clear: If having their school play is an option, they will find a way to make ends meet.