The move to a 10-game, SEC-only schedule has left the University of Alabama obligated to pay out more than $3.5 million to schools that were originally contracted to play the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in the 2020 season.
UA had scheduled home games against Georgia State on Sept. 12, Kent State on Sept. 26 and UT Martin on Nov. 14.
“Details regarding the non-conference home games that were on our 2020 football schedule are being worked through,” UA Director of Athletics Greg Byrne said in a statement to The Tuscaloosa News.
UA signed contracts worth $1.3 million for the Georgia State game, $1.75 million for the Kent State game and $500,000 for the UT Martin game, according to documents obtained by The Tuscaloosa News through an open records request.
For second-tier FBS schools and FCS schools, football season is a irreplaceable revenue generator in more than ticket sales and television deals.
Group of 5 and FCS schools have come to depend on paydays from financial elites like Alabama. The deals are beneficial for both sides: Alabama and schools like it pay sometimes as much as $2 million for a home game – and a likely win in front of, in the days before the COVID-19 pandemic, a large crowd – while the smaller school uses that money to fund its athletic department.
Those agreements are among the long list of college athletics mainstays cast under a shadow of doubt by coronavirus.
The USA Today database on college athletics financial information has Kent State with an athletic revenue of roughly $29.4 million, meaning one football game against UA would generate 5.9 percent of its yearly athletics revenue. The number is smaller for Georgia State (3.6 percent) and UT Martin (3.5 percent).
“This news is regrettable but is a new reality,” UT Martin athletic director Kurt McGuffin said in a statement. “Losing a game of this magnitude is not only a disappointment for our players and fans, but also a reflection of the associated financial implications.”
Naturally, the SEC opponents that signed on for these games are motivated to continue this source of income, while the bigger schools that pay out the sums may to be motivated to recoup that money in thelikelihood that football ticket sales are severely limited or negated entirely.
UA’s contracts with all three schools includes a clause that states, “In the event of … prohibitory or governmental authority, including that of the Southeastern Conference or the National Collegiate Athletic Association, making it impossible or impractical to play the game, both parties shall be relieved of any and all obligations of this agreement.”
The contracts also have breach clauses that could result in payouts. The penalty for breaching the Georgia State and Kent State contracts is $1 million and $500,000 for the UT Martin game.
How will contracts be resolved?
How schools treat those financial obligations is likely to differ on a case-by-case basis. Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said he does not see the school under any financial obligation to Abilene Christian, North Texas and Fresno State, but has offered to reschedule games with those schools.
Georgia State in particular believes UA can make good on the agreement even if no game is played.
“In 2017, the American Athletic Conference made a unilateral decision to cancel our game against Memphis within weeks of its scheduled date for their independent desire to play more conference games,” Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb said in a statement to The Tuscaloosa News. “To their credit, the cancellation fee was paid promptly, primarily recognizing the hardship this last-minute decision placed on us.
“We expect Alabama to do likewise as they have significantly more resources than Memphis.”
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson