Barry Alvarez: Wisconsin Could Lose $100M If College Football Season Is Canceled

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorJuly 24, 2020

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez smiles after an NCAA college football game against LSU Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Aaron Gash/Associated Press

The Wisconsin athletic department is projected to lose $100 million in revenue if the 2020 college football season is not played amid the COVID-19 pandemic, per athletic director Barry Alvarez in a letter published on uwbadgers.com (h/t ESPN's Mark Schlabach).

That $100 million figure is in addition to the $12 million that the department has already lost, per Alvarez, who laid out what the department has done to cut costs.

"To this point, we have taken many steps over the past few months to minimize the impact of a cancelled winter postseason and spring season. We have instituted pay decreases for our top 25 earners and workshare furloughs for all employees, put a freeze on almost all hiring, restricted travel, limited to essential-only spending and announced the delay of the South End Zone renovation project. These steps have allowed us to avoid the tough decisions other schools have already had to make, like eliminating sports or laying off employees."

Wisconsin's athletic department is operating on a $140 million operating budget for 2020-21, per Alvarez.

Schlabach provided more context on the financial figures: "A Wisconsin spokesperson told ESPN that the financial model assumes limited capacity at home football games, but he didn't specify what percentage."

The Big Ten football season has already been pared down to a conference-only slate because of the pandemic, which has already led to the MEAC, SWAC, Ivy League, Patriot League and other conferences canceling or postponing sports previously planned for the fall of 2020.

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Per Schlabach, Wisconsin would still lose between $60 million and $70 million if a Big Ten-only slate occurs. The Pac-12 has also announced that its upcoming fall sports campaign will be conference-only.

Todd M. Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal outlined what Wisconsin's plans are should it stare down tens of millions of more in revenue loss, referencing the school's reserve fund.

"UW said it didn't have to tap into an operating reserve fund held at the UW Foundation to cover a projected deficit of around $2.5 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year that ended June 30. That probably will change this year.

"The reserve fund totaled more than $190 million at the end of the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to an audit. Most was held in endowments or targeted for specific capital projects, UW said, so the reserve isn't enough to cover the loss of an entire year of operating revenue."

As Schlabach noted, the football program brought in roughly 58 percent of the department's $157.7 million in revenue, per a school financial report to the NCAA. Those figures include $45.6 million from media rights and $24 million in ticket sales.

Wisconsin is currently scheduled to host Indiana on September 4 to start its season.