Podcast Episode 26: Without college football, are college sports doomed?

July 15, 2020
This week co-hosts Ellen and Steph give #thegist of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on college sports. With some conferences cancelling fall sports, including football, schools have had to cut some varsity sports teams and make changes to athletic scholarships indefinitely. Meanwhile, some football teams, led by well-paid white coaches, are urging the season to go ahead, putting their unpaid, majority Black, players at risk. Tune in, won’t you.
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Podcast Episode 26: Without college football, are college sports doomed?
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Listen to this episode of The GIST of IT here.

(Edited for clarity)

Ellen: What's up, GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, the podcast where two gals and two pals give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Stephanie: And I'm Stephanie Rotz.

Ellen: Thanks for tuning in.

Stephanie, I am so excited to see your beautiful face again and to hear your wonderful voice. It's always a treat every Tuesday evening doing this podcast with you.

Stephanie: Oh my gosh. One of my favorite faces. Ellen Hyslop, favorite raspy voices. This week, you know what else I was pretty stoked about to see is our Toronto Maple Leafs sporting some fabulous T-shirts, the Black Lives Matter T-shirts, and taking a stand as we're getting ready to get the NHL back up and running.

Ellen: Totally. And I think because Toronto is the biggest hockey market and because it is one of the original six teams in the NHL, it also gives such a big statement to the Black Lives Matter movement and what they're doing, especially in a sport like we've talked about before, that just has so much whiteness.

Stephanie: And we had our Toronto Raptors with their bus. So I'm trying to, you know in 2020 to see some silver linings, and they seem to be popping up this week.

Ellen: Totally. That's great. This week, I'm glad that you're seeing that because I just got looped into the hashtag #FreeBritney that's going on right now. And I am absolutely shocked and so sad. And I wanted to bring it up because you're absolutely obsessed with Britney Spears. And as a kid, I was totally obsessed because my middle name is Britney. So I obviously thought that I was her when I was younger, you know, so it makes me so sad to see what she's been through. And, yeah, for anyone who's listening, who doesn't know what FreeBritney is, please search the hashtag #FreeBritney.

Stephanie: It's such a fascinating tale. I say that word because I just don't know how else to phrase it. I looked into this during grad school because I wrote a paper about her because any excuse to write a paper about Britney Spears I'll happily take. But it's an interesting take on how far we've come to an understanding of mental health in popular culture as well. I mean, I'm all about the silver linings because I've got to today.

Ellen: At least after all of these years, at least it's finally coming to light. We've talked a lot about uncovering and it does seem like 2020 is the year of uncovering, including the year of uncovering what's happening to Britt.

Stephanie: Mm hmm. It's also the year of Covid and Covid-sports. And ugh shall we sashay onto the sports world?

Ellen: Let's sashay away.

Stephanie: I am so fascinated and obviously saddened by what's happening with a lot of the colleges and universities right now that so many schools, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, are having to go online for the upcoming fall semester at least. And that so many students will still have to pay their full tuition. There's a lot up in the air about what a student's future is going to look like for fall 2020 right now in the post-secondary landscape in Canada and in the U.S. And it's been super interesting to see what schools are doing from a sports and from an athletics perspective. Canada, so here in Canada, for the most part, has said no to sports, whereas the U.S. is kind of still sorting their stuff out.

Ellen: Yes, it is a wild, very wild situation, especially considering that so many students, particularly in the U.S., are able to get post-secondary education through sport scholarships. And it's also quite interesting looking at it kind of from an economic perspective, because so many schools also really rely on football, which is a fall semester sport that might be cut, in order to fund all of the other sports.

Stephanie: That economics peace with NCAA, so college football has been a hot topic I would say this past year and more than that for sure, and of course, when we're talking about economics and we're talking about economics in varsity sports, we're also talking about gender and race and the economics of labor and how we value labor and whose labor. And let's get into that some more with this episode.

Ellen: Ok, so first Steph, I feel like we need to set the stage because I don't know about you, but sometimes I find the way that the college conferences and leagues are set up is whacky and somewhat confusing.

Stephanie: Oh my gosh. So confusing, especially for a Canadian gal like me.

Ellen: Yeah. As an out of towner, I need to wrap my head around things. So to start with the NCAA, which is the college association for all different types of sports in the US, there are 32 conferences. Conferences are basically created because there are so many schools across such a big country and they all have varying skill depths athletically, also depending on each sport.

So y'all can Google the full 32 conferences because we will not list that out because that would literally take our entire podcast. But we wanted to go through the main ones, mostly because these main conferences are the best football conferences in the US and they're called the Power Five. So those five are the Atlantic Coast Conference, also known as the ACC, as expected, this is the East Coast as well as Florida schools. The second is the Big Ten conference. So those are mostly north-central as well as eastern schools. The Big 12 conference, which is mostly Midwest schools, and the PAC 12 conference, which is mostly West Coast schools. And then finally, we have the SEC, the Southeastern Conference, and it's in the name. Those are mostly Southeastern schools. So again, these five schools are called the Power Five. And we've linked a map to the power five in the show notes, because if you're a visual learner like me, that will help out a lot to visualize how the conferences are mapped out.

So in addition to the power five that we'll be talking about today and how college football kind of impacts all of those conferences, we're also going to be talking about the Ivy Leagues. So these are the East Coast prestigious bougie schools that I first learned about watching Gilmore Girls, learning about Rory choosing between Harvard and Yale literally had no clue what those were. And we're also going to be talking about the Patriot League. So they have 10 core members in their league, all coming out of the northeast it seems like, and some of their schools include Boston University, Loyola and Navy.

Stephanie: Very confusing, but somehow I'm starting to piece it together, it makes sense. Thanks, Ellen.

Ellen: Great.

Stephanie: There are so many schools. The U.S. is huge. Oh my gosh. Let's also talk about the importance of college football itself in the United States. People are obsessed with college football, like both students as well as their alumni. It's a big cultural thing in America. And to put it into perspective, the top six largest football stadiums in the U.S. are all for college football teams, not NFL.

Ellen: Yes. Which is crazy.

Stephanie: Like my university that I graduated from doesn't even have a football team.

Ellen: That's true. Ryerson. Yeah. No football team. Like even at my school, we had a good football team, but you only went if it was homecoming, like you didn't really go to any other games.

Stephanie: Not as much school spirit, I guess, in Ontario. But I'm sure you can imagine how much revenue is brought in by college football, thinking about those massive stadiums, thinking about how popular it is and how embedded it is into the culture, the latest numbers that we have are from the 2017-2018 season whereby Texas, Texas A&M and Ohio State all brought in over two hundred million dollars in revenue. And looking at Texas A&M, they saw forty seven million dollars in profit in one year.

Ellen: So great that. It's such a huge number.

Stephanie: It's a huge number. And that's a lot for one sport. There are a lot of naysayers about football because sometimes it will receive much more love and much more TLC than the campus and classes themselves. But what's cool about the revenue and profit brought in by these football teams is that they do share the love. College football for most conferences, especially smaller conferences, help to fund other sports, including sports like volleyball, soccer, rowing, etc..

Ellen: Yeah, and this kind of reminds me, and I feel like it's a meme that's gone around social media right now, but it kind of reminds me of Cady Heron in Mean Girls when she wins homecoming queen or prom queen or whatever it was, and she gets given the crown, and she's like "a piece for Gretchen Weiners... a piece for Regina George" and then everybody slowly gets a piece. That's kind of how I feel football is. Football is the homecoming queen, and they're like "and volleyball gets some and rowing gets some, fencing, you get one, too." That's how I kind of picture football in this scenario.

Stephanie: Isn't it Katie Heron, isn't that part of the joke?

Ellen: Oh my God. As I wrote it down properly to be Cady. Oh my gosh. That's so embarrassing.

Stephanie: No, I love that. You also often misquote song lyrics. So I think it's on brand Ellen.

Ellen: All the time.

Stephanie: But because of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a problem here, as I'm sure we're all kind of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. With classes moving online and probably without football teams playing. What's going to happen to these other sports and what's going to happen to all these other, you know, buckets that Cady Heron's tossing her pieces of her tiara into? And fewer than half of the Division One teams, ESPN reported, have financial reserves in place that could be used during a type of crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic that we find ourselves in.

Ellen: It's really scary to kind of think about, you know, like how much schools would rely on one specific sport and how much really all of us were just zero percent prepared for a pandemic like this. And I think that this whole thing with college sports really got real at the beginning of last week, when most Ivy League schools announced that they're going online for the fall semester, and because of that, they're also postponing collegiate sports until the spring and that includes football as well.

So there's basically going to be no football throughout the fall for the Ivy Leagues. And on top of that, Stanford, which is not an Ivy because it's on the West Coast, I think. But it basically has the prestige of an Ivy. And I think a lot of people, including myself, thought that it was an Ivy. They have been forced to cut eleven of their thirty six varsity teams, which is huge. That's a really big percentage. Some of those teams include rowing, squash, synchro swimming, fencing, men's volleyball. And they had to cut them or else they would have seen losses north of 70 million dollars due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also due to the impact of having no football.

And Stanford is a school that Tiger Woods came out of, Julie Foudy came out of, like gold medalists at Olympics have come out of this school. And it's really hard to think that so many Olympians might have just had their hopes dashed because now they can't go to Stanford. Luckily in this case, because Stanford did have some of a reserve and because they do have the prestige that they do, they do have some money in the background. And so they've been able to honor athletic scholarships for those affected students. And if the pandemic allows it, those eleven sports will still be able to participate in 2021 again, if it's safe to be able to play.

Stephanie: I've been reading, too, that most schools are going to try, obviously, where possible to maintain and to honor those athletic scholarships. And while we know here that Stanford is honoring those scholarships, when I started to think about varsity sports needing to shut down because of covid, my mind immediately went to thinking about those athletic scholarships, like will these kids lose them in the long term?

And those scholarships enable a lot of people to go to post-secondary. And a lot of access happens when you have a full ride scholarship or a partial ride scholarship due to athletics. And you think of those students who are juniors or seniors in America or grade eleven or grade twelve here in Canada that may have been playing volleyball or a rower for their entire life, trying to get into one of these schools because they couldn't afford it else wise. And now it looks like for at least a couple years they may not have the opportunity to play and I'm sure college is the end of a lot of those people's quote unquote, athletic career.

Ellen: For sure, and I think you bring up a good point too, about the access of what sports can bring in terms of, you know, people who might not be able to afford to go to school, who can go to school because of sports. Hopefully those people will still be able to find ways to make it. But it's definitely going to be difficult, especially when we don't know much about how schools are going to be handling those scholarships.

Stephanie: And there's just so much up in the air. I mean, we don't know if... Yeah, there's just so much up there.

Ellen: So much. And so after the Ivy League, so we kind of covered the Ivy League, postponing everything for the fall. The Patriot League, which is another Division One league. And again, the divisions in NCAA are D1, D2 and then D3, D1 being the best and D3 still being good, but just of the worst of the NCAA kind of schools in terms of sports. They have canceled fall sports. And again, they're also including football and are figuring out if maybe they can push the football season to the spring, but they're not sure.

Otherwise, when we get back to those Power Five that we talked about at the top of the podcast, we're still waiting to hear what they're doing when it comes to having school online and remote, when it comes to sports, when it comes to football. The college football season is still supposed to start on August 29th, but a lot of schools have said that they'll make their final decision by the end of this month.

So by the end of July. But when they're saying this, I was like, that's still not the best decision because you're still going to have your teams out practicing and in training camp before then. And I just don't understand how that could be a safe situation, especially given the pandemic in the U.S. right now. I was looking at some of the numbers and last month, 23 Clemson players tested positive, 37 members of North Carolina's athletic department tested positive last week, and in late June, more than 30 Louisiana state players were quarantined after a Covid-19 outbreak. And these are still schools that are having training camp and practices. So a decision by the end of July for end of August just doesn't really seem adequate to me at this point. I'm no doctor, but it just doesn't seem adequate to me. Meanwhile, the Big Ten and the PAC 12 have said that they'll get rid of any non-conference games in order to decrease travel.

Stephanie: I really want to dive into this a little bit. You know, the morality part of the issue of continuing to practice and whether or not to keep football going during this pandemic. A great article was written by Morgan Campbell for CBC Sports outlining how it's the rich white coaches that want football in a pandemic, but they're putting unpaid Black players, about 49% of athletes in Division One are Black, at risk.

Players, you may not know in college get scholarships, but they don't get paid any sort of salary. And this is a billion dollar industry that we're talking about here, when we're talking about college football in the states. And if you've been following this at all, you might have heard a lot of rumblings lately that the NCAA will finally allow athletes to earn money from endorsement deals in the 2021-2022 academic year. If we get into that academic year, which is a big deal because they can start profiting off of their namesake themselves with third parties. So not being directly tied to the university, it would be external to those. So they're not seen as employees of the university. So that's a big deal. But they don't get paid any sort of salary, and that would obviously only be for the stars of the league.

Meanwhile, college football coaches, 82% of which are white men, get paid literally a shit ton. The biggest school coaches can make anywhere from five million to nine million U.S. dollars. A really, really powerful line that Morgan said in his article was, quote unquote, "Money motivates the push to salvage the college football season this fall. But race underpins all of it." We've seen a lot of big players and teams call out racist bullshit from their coaches and from their institution during this Black Lives Matter movement. And their boycotts and calls have created some change and have started this conversation for sure.

So now when we're talking about Covid-19 numbers increasing and keeping in mind black Americans are hospitalized at four times the rate of white Americans during this pandemic, we wouldn't be surprised if we saw a lot of players opt out or boycott the season due to this pandemic or ask for a third party outsider to manage testing in facilities to ensure their safety. There's a lot at stake here and not just money, we're talking about people's lives.

Ellen: Yeah people's lives are at stake here. And it also reminds me of that power struggle that athletes and college athletes are constantly finding themselves in, that they sometimes feel like they're forced to play in unsafe situations because their coach and the people at the top basically control their future and what can happen for them. And you've got to believe that there's a lot of seniors, so fourth year university players who are like, yeah, I could get an NFL contract out of this year or I might not. And would they be willing to play in an unsafe environment? And then there's race that's added on top of all of that that you need to consider. And it's a really sticky situation that college sports find themselves in.

Stephanie: Mm hmm. If it's on, there's not really that much of a choice. If you think about it in those terms. Right. Like, will I play and risk not having my chance potentially to get into the NFL or will I not? It's messy.

Ellen: Yes, very messy. It's a very interesting and precarious situation. And again, just so unprecedented. And it's really hard to judge everything in the situation because we've never gone through it before. And I think people are doing the best that they can with the information. I'd like to think. As you mentioned before, Steph, you know, think positive. Silver linings. Let's hope people are doing it.

But, you know, I still have a lot of questions. There's always that revenue and profit argument to keep football, with no fans in the stands. There's a massive loss of revenue there. And does the revenue coming in from watching games on TV pay for itself for this year? Does it pay for any other sports this year? Still, you know, such a big question mark. And I'm also wondering, speaking of the NFL, will the college decision impact what the NFL decides to do for their season?

So the NFL has already said we're only going to have two preseason games this season's still going to start in September. We haven't heard anything about hub cities. We haven't heard anything for sure about how many fans are going to be in the stands. We haven't heard anything about scheduling travel differently. I'm very interested to see how the NFL might have to pivot based off of what college decides, especially in the Power Five.

And then, Steph, as you mentioned, I'm just like, what are the long term impacts on athletics in the U.S. from Covid-19? You know, we're thinking about scholarships. How long will certain sports be canceled? How is this going to impact the greater industry of youth sports? If all of a sudden all of these athletic scholarships that families and kids are really gunning for are just gone.

Stephanie: And college football is so embedded into local economies of those different places where the games and the universities exist. So there's a lot of reverberations outside of college football potentially not happening.

Ellen: Yeah. A massive trickle down effect.

All right, so we know that college sports are very much in the air right now and really just the college period is very much in the air right now, whether it will be in the classroom and online. But to leave the podcast in a little bit more of a lighthearted space, let's talk about our 'Wow, That Was Fun Moment' from this week.

Stephanie: Sports-ish related this week. Twenty three year old Valentina Sampaio became the first trans woman to be featured by Sports Illustrated in a swimsuit issue.

Ellen: So cool.

Stephanie: Very used to barrier breaking. Previously, in 2017, Valentina was the first trans woman to be on the cover of Vogue Paris and in 2019 was the first openly transgender model to be hired by Victoria's Secret. So, you know, we're talking silver linings throughout this whole episode. We've got another one for you here. So shout out to Valentina.

Ellen: Year after year after year. Friggin love. And she's twenty three.

Stephanie: Oh, my God.

Ellen: Imagine accomplishing all that by the time you're 23. Unbelievable.

Something that I've had a lot of fun consuming this week is all of the content coming out of the NBA bubble and the WNBA's wubble, which I absolutely love that name, of course it's the wubble, it's so perfect. But because there's not many reporters there that can actually get all of the behind the scenes access anymore, it's mostly up to the players to be able to give us that behind the scenes access.

And so on the NBA side, we've seen so much just like fishing and shotgunning beers, which is like the bro-iest thing ever. But then we've also seen Matisse Thybulle, who's a rookie for the Philadelphia 76ers, just create some incredible YouTube content and he's so talented and amazing. So it's been really cool to see the other side of that.

And then also with the wubble too, it seems like they've sorted out all of their woes of being housed in just not an adequate place. And it seems like they're starting to have more fun on social, too, sharing different TikToks together and chatting about food and all that sort of stuff. So I don't know. It's been fun to see what they've been up to from like a player standpoint.

Stephanie: The carrying of the coffee moment was also extremely related. That was a Toronto Raptor, right?

Ellen: Yeah. Marc Gasol, who by the way, is just like absolutely ripped and jacked coming out of covid, like this pandemic has done very well for him. He looks so much better than he ever has. I've always been like, how does he run so back and forth? Like he had some extra meat on him. But he is ready to play. Yeah. Brings in the Nespresso. Oh, I absolutely loved it. Just coming with the necessities.

Steph: Alright that’s The GIST of it from Ellen and I. Thanks for tuning in! If you liked what you heard, tell all of your friends and subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher and while you’re there, please rate us 5 stars and leave a review.

Ellen: And in case you missed it, The GIST creates sports content, experiences and community that’s by women and for all sports fans. If you liked what you heard today, you have to check out our free twice-weekly newsletter, where every Monday and Thursday morning, we give you “the gist” of what’s going on in the sports world. If you haven’t yet, subscribe at thegistsports.com.

If you have a question you want aired and answered on the pod, email us at pod@thegistsports.com, or DM us on IG: @thegistnews.ca or @thegistusa.