Greg Byrne: Alabama athletic department finances will be hit hard in 2020

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News

This story originally published Aug. 13, 2020.

Going into a sixth month of uncertainty in college athletics, University of Alabama Director of Athletics Greg Byrne knows two things for certain: No matter what happens with football, financial losses will be challenging, and if there are football games in Bryant-Denny Stadium this fall, not many people will be in attendance.

Byrne held a 30-minute media availability via Zoom Thursday afternoon on a wide range of topics, including UA’s COVID-19 prevention policies and the status of the upcoming football season.

“If we are fortunate enough to move forward and play this year, whether we play or don’t play, there are going to be significant financial challenges for our department and departments across the country,” Byrne said. “Once we get our final schedule and we know the dates for all of our games, then we’re going to unveil our ticketing plan, but I can tell you our capacity will be significantly reduced: emphasize on the significant.”

UA has already lost money from the NCAA Tournament being canceled, potentially as much as $1 million. The inability to play football in 2020 would be the most financially challenging circumstance, but even playing the full 10-game schedule with minimal fan attendance would carry significant financial ramifications.

“We’ve already taken steps, as soon as everything got shut down last spring,” Byrne said. “We froze budgets. We tried to be discreet as much as possible from a spending standpoint. We have other plans that we have been developing over the last several months that we’ll talk about in more detail once we know what we’re dealing with.”

Byrne’s words media came days after the Big Ten and Pac 12 both moved to cancel fall sports in their conferences with the hopes of playing football in the spring. Byrne said there have been limited conversations about the feasibility of a spring football season in the SEC, but all efforts remain dedicated to playing in the fall.

Athletics director Greg Byrne speaks during the Crimson Standard Initiative press conference Thursday, August 16, 2018. The fund raising initiative will fund extensive renovations to Bryant-Denny Stadium and Coleman Coliseum.

When it comes to non-football fall sports – UA offers women’s soccer, volleyball and cross country — Byrne said those conversations were happening with the senior women administrators around the league, with Alabama represented by Tiffini Grimes. Byrne said the league’s athletics directors will take on the topic more in the next week and watch the NCAA’s actions on the subject.

Byrne expressed pride in UA’s dedication to health and safety protocols to this point in offseason workouts and practices — “I don’t think anybody can argue Alabama has not been on the forefront of mask-wearing,” he said — but knows the task will get more difficult soon. Classes for the fall semester start at UA next week, meaning UA student-athletes will be mingling in some capacities with students who are not as heavily monitored as the athletes.

“I think sometimes you hear a narrative that how can you get to no risk, well no risk is to isolate everybody. That’s it,” Byrne said. “But can you, between aggressive testing, which I’m very proud of what we’ve been doing from a testing standpoint for our student-athletes, from contact tracing with social distancing, wearing masks … I think you have an opportunity to move forward and try to play, whatever it is in the fall.

“That’s what we’ve been doing as a department and that’s what we’re going to continue to do until the fall sports season is called off, then obviously we’ll follow those guidelines.”

Byrne said UA has an outside entity conducting its contact tracing, one that has been instructed to follow CDC guidelines.

“Whatever the contact tracing tells us to do is what we’ll do, and what we have done,” he said.

While it has not happened at UA yet, multiple Power 5 schools have had prominent football players opt out of the 2020 season due to fears of playing during the pandemic. But it has had to answers questions from its athletes, Byrne said.

“We’ve had student-athletes ask a lot of questions, which is what we want, and we try to give them the best information we can through different medical experts to address that and answer any concerns that they have,” Byrne said.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson