College Football

Football or Bust: Fate of Aztec Athletics Hinge on Return of Football

“If you’re not going to play football, then you’re going to be hard-pressed to play anything else,” SDSU Director of Athletics John David Wicker said

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Due to coronavirus restrictions, there are big questions about the immediate future of football at San Diego State University, especially with the Cal State University system keeping classes online through the fall semester.

So, just how important is football to the Aztec athletic department?

John David Wicker, Director of Athletics at San Diego State, says the Aztecs need to play a football season to fund other sports, and in-turn has other sports play their seasons.

“If you’re not going to play football, then you’re going to be hard-pressed to play anything else,” Wicker said.

Aztec football revenue funds nearly 30% of SDSU’s total athletic budget. For the 2019-2020 school year, Aztec football generated $15.2 million in revenue. SDSU’s total annual athletic budget was $54 million. Next school year (2020-2021), the budget is $57 million, with projected football related revenues increasing to $16.8 million.

“You can’t underestimate how important football is to the budget of any athletic department,” says Wicker.

So important, that Wicker says he’d be in favor of pushing the season back 6 months to save it.

“Yeah, playing in the spring versus not playing at all, let’s play in the spring all day long,” he said.

Now, which schools will actually play is another big question. There are 130 teams in NCAA FBS football from 41 different states and 10 different conferences, including a handful of independent teams. What if some of those states haven’t eased COVID-19 restrictions by the time the season starts in the fall? What if a university, or a whole university system like the Cal State schools, says no sports yet, it’s not safe? What if six schools in a conference return to play, but four do not? Will schools follow COVID-19 participation guidelines set forth by their state, their conference, or the NCAA as a whole?

Wicker admits it’s a lot to sort through.

“Having 41 states in lock step with what are the things you can do, it’s going to be challenging. Hopefully, everybody can play. If it’s 120 out of 130 that can play, do you penalize the 120 that can play because 10 can’t play? I don’t know at this point,” he said.

So many unknowns, and all this time we in San Diego thought the stadium issue what the biggest uncertainty facing Aztec football. 

One other potential large looming issue is the NCAA’s stance on coronavirus restrictions and eligibility, specifically with regards to the Cal State system’s plan for virtual learning in the fall semester. 

NCAA President Mark Emmert said he does not envision a scenario in which fall sports take place if students cannot return to campus.

“All of the Division I commissioners and every president that I’ve talked to is in clear agreement: If you don’t have students on campus, you don’t have student-athletes on campus,” Emmert said. “That doesn’t mean it has to be up and running in the full normal model, but you’ve got to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students. So, if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.”

SDSU plans to get around that by offering a hybrid model for classes, some in-person, and some virtual.

University President Adela de la Torre provided clarity on Twitter by stating, “We will offer certain lab and performance-based instruction in person.”

That’s SDSU plan for now, but this is a fluid situation that’s expected to change many times in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Wicker is targeting early to mid-July for a final decision on playing a football season in the fall. Any decisions reached after that would indicate a truncated, delayed, or canceled season.

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