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With Penn State Football's Future Uncertain in 2020, Barbour Talks Avoiding Program Cuts

by on April 02, 2020 4:00 PM

While athletic departments nationwide are weeks and months from navigating the potential cancelation or delay of football season amid the coronavirus pandemic, the fallout of such a cancelation is a very present thought in the minds of every athletic director in America.

The financial ramifications of a canceled season are somewhat self-evident, Penn State pulling in nearly $37 million from ticket sales and nearly $7 million parking and various concessions during the 2019 fiscal year alone. The loss of such revenue would only account for on-campus assets, with just as much money allocated (in the ballpark of $52 million) from media rights. Whether or not networks would be obligated to pay those rights fees for a canceled season is an unsettled debate.

The next steps Penn State, which supports 31 competitive varsity programs, or any athletic department might take are unknown, but financial struggles and the cutting of smaller sports are certainly among the more common first steps taken in the face of financial uncertainty.

So would Penn State cut sports in the face of a massive loss in revenues? Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour discussed the topic Thursday on a video call with members of the media.

"Actually it's a question I got from our student athletes last night," Barbour said. "And obviously that's in response to everybody kind of going into doomsday from whether or not we would have the opportunity from a revenue standpoint to access the revenues that come to us, primarily from football.

"We have several other sports at Penn State that obviously bring in some revenue but none of that magnitude. And my answer was, you know... obviously that [doomsday is] the unknown. Our 31 programs and 800-plus student athletes, it's in our DNA; it's part of who we are. And that is certainly not something that we're looking at right now. But we do continue to have a lot of a lot of unknowns around what the financial situation would be with some of these things. We're looking at scenario planning and looking at what what steps we might need to take. Our primary focus is on holding our 31 programs, or 800-plus student athletes, together, and finding a way as Penn Staters and as a Penn State community to come through this on the other side."

Barbour went on to note that Penn State athletics has some money saved that will make for a positive 2019-20 fiscal year, but that the uncertainty of 2020-21 remains. In turn, as the date continues to change, so too do the decisions that follow. Penn State's overall revenues were $164.5 million in fiscal year 2019, down about $840,000 from 2017-18. Total operating expenses came in around $160 million.

In the big picture the existence of a robust sports slate has long been a point of pride in Penn State's athletic existence. Cutting sports would go against much of the department's ethos, but perhaps nothing signifies the unique nature of the situation that while Barbour was steadfast in her support for those programs, that their future was ultimately left uncertain in an uncertain time.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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