The commissioners of five college athletic conferences have asked the N.C.A.A. to relax some of its requirements because of financial problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a joint letter to the president of the N.C.A.A., Mark Emmert, the commissioners of the American Athletic, Mountain West, Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences and Conference USA asked for temporary relief for up to four years, calling this the “direst financial crisis for higher education since at least the Great Depression.”
“We felt that there were some common-sense things we would take up with the N.C.A.A,” said Mike Aresco, the commissioner of the American Athletic Conference, adding later, “We are looking at worst-case scenarios.”
Among their requests was for the N.C.A.A. to ease the requirement that they sponsor a minimum of 16 sports to be in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They also asked to waive the football attendance requirement, which requires colleges to average at least 15,000 people at all home football games, and to change scheduling requirements.
“This collaborative request from the Group of Five is intended as the sort of creative alternative these unprecedented times demand,” Craig Thompson, the commissioner of the Mountain West, said in a statement. “The waivers of N.C.A.A. legislation would create a permissive environment, allowing each institution and conference across the Division I landscape the necessary flexibility to determine how to best proceed in making financial adjustments which are intended to preserve sports and opportunities for student-athletes.”
Some universities have started cutting programs to save money, and it is likely that more will follow. The University of Cincinnati, a member of the American Athletic Conference, cut its men’s soccer team on Tuesday, stating that it needed to consider long-term budget implications. Aresco said that the team had been struggling for a long time and that the conference members had no plans to cut other sports at this time.
Earlier this month, Old Dominion University, a member of Conference USA, cut its wrestling program and announced that other cost saving measures would save about $1 million. The decision was related to the findings of a study by an outside consultant before the coronavirus crisis.
“Our decision became even more clear during this coronavirus crisis, which we know will have significant impact on future athletics budgets,” Camden Wood Selig, Old Dominion’s athletic director, said in a statement. “This decision will better allow the remaining sports to compete at a national level.”
Both the University of Cincinnati and Old Dominion said they would honor current scholarships for affected players for the duration of their time at the school.
All N.C.A.A. championships were canceled last month for the rest of the academic year, including the men’s N.C.A.A. basketball tournament. Eighty percent of the N.C.A.A.’s $1.1 billion in revenue last year came from television and marketing rights for the tournament.
A portion of the money made during the tournament is distributed to conferences, and the loss of that income may be especially jarring to midmajor conferences, who do not have big television contracts to rely on.Universities are also concerned about losing student fees and donations that help fund athletic departments, Aresco said.
It is not yet known if or how the coronavirus will affect fall sports, including football.
“We are in uncharted territory,” Aresco said. “We are trying to anticipate issues. The financial implications are real, and we have been having to deal with those.”