Mar 27, 2020 - Sports

The ripple effects of March Sadness

Kendall Baker, author of Sports

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The NCAA men's basketball tournament makes up more than 75% of the organization's annual revenue, so ever since March Madness was canceled, college administrators have been bracing for an economic gut punch.

Driving the news: The NCAA delivered the blow yesterday, announcing that it will distribute just $225 million to Division I conferences and schools for 2020 — less than half of the $600 million that had originally been budgeted.

  • The NCAA said $50 million will come from its reserve fund, while a $270 million event cancellation insurance policy will help pay off the remaining distribution.

Between the lines: Lower divisions will also be taking a substantial hit, with D-II schools projected to receive $30 million less than last year (~$13.9 million), and D-III schools projected to receive $22 million less than last year (~$10.7 million).

Why it matters: This massive slashing of revenue distribution will affect athletic departments big and small, "likely starting with staffing reductions or salary freezes and eventually causing schools to reduce scholarships and potentially cut sports entirely," writes The Athletic's Nicole Auerbach (subscription).

The big picture: Many schools are already refunding student fees for the semester, and with spring (and potentially winter) athletes expected to be granted an extra year of eligibility, rosters and costs could balloon next year.

  • Add it all up and the impact that the coronavirus will have on college campuses is almost hard to fathom. A D-I basketball tournament was canceled and a D-III swimmer might feel the brunt of it.

The bottom line: The college sports world was already living in a new financial reality before yesterday's announcement, but now that they know the extent of the damage, "it feels more real," says NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan.

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