College presidents and athletics directors have difficult budget decisions on their hands.
No small trims will work. Big cuts are likely ahead in 2020-21, including salary cuts for head coaches and administrators. ACC schools like Syracuse and Louisville have already announced cuts.
But there are some cuts within Olympic sports that could deliver savings. Re-thinking the schedule and eliminating long road trips within the ACC are options that could be on the table.
Let’s start with the “why” and then we’ll get into the “how.”
Football and men’s basketball are typically the two college sports that are revenue-positive at the college level. (Some schools see positive financials in baseball.) Fielding most Olympics sports come at a loss to an athletics department like FSU and those around the nation.
The big expenses associated with an Olympics sport are coaches’ salaries, scholarships, flights and hotels. And let’s operate under the premise that athletics directors will do whatever they can to avoid cutting sports, even though some schools like Old Dominion (wrestling) and Cincinnati (men’s soccer) have already made those difficult decisions.
Travel is an easy way to make radical schedule changes and limit expenses, saving millions of dollars in the 2020-21 athletics season (also FSU’s fiscal year). Start with a blank slate for the schedule, get creative and make some radical suggestions.
Do FSU’s Olympics sports teams need to travel to the farthest schools in the ACC – Syracuse, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame – when the schedule could be altered? No. Eliminating road trips that are as far as Syracuse (1,235 miles) and Boston (1,307) as well as Pittsburgh (892 miles) and South Bend (917) is a no-brainer given the finances of college athletics as we look toward the 2020-21 athletics season.
“The Northern teams aren’t coming, is what I’m being told,” FSU baseball coach Mike Martin Jr. said. “They can’t do it. They don’t want them on planes. They don’t want to spend the money. So it may turn into a regionalized situation – on a bus, you go play, you turn around and come back.”
Could the ACC create more geographic-friendly four-team or five-team pods where the league’s schools are clustered? Yes. FSU could be grouped in with Miami, Georgia Tech, Clemson and one or a few of the North Carolina schools.
Could FSU’s trips to Clemson and, say, NC State be consolidated where a team plays the Wolfpack on a Friday and Clemson on a Sunday and then travels back home? Yes.
By removing some of those distant games, matches or meets from the schedule, there is considerable cost savings when evaluating the expense of charter flights or commercial flights from Tallahassee to schools in what is a spread-out conference. A round-trip charter flight to the farthest ends of the ACC could easily run FSU $80,000-100,000, depending on the distance and cost of jet fuel.
That may sound like a drop in a budget bucket, but if each Olympic sport can give up some of its longest road trips as well as perhaps combine two into a weekend the savings would add up. And FSU administrators have budgeted $9.7 million for travel in 2020-21, so there’s the potential to slash into that number considerably.
FSU could opt to replace some of those ACC matchups with opponents like Florida, Jacksonville, North Florida, South Alabama and Troy. No flights would be needed for non-conference games. Quicker road trips in FSU-owned vans. No more than a one-night stay in hotels.
“That’s probably what’s going to happen,” Martin Jr. said. “Thank goodness we’re in an area where we have enough schools so they can get on a bus and go play. … Playing a doubleheader on Saturday and one on Sunday may be the new norm as well.”
Martin Jr. has also suggested a 20-game fall schedule where the Seminoles would bus to nearby schools, playing two games on a weekend and make it part of a weekend of activities built around a home football game.
Another option for FSU’s Olympics sports would be to host a three-day event and invite six schools. Similar in concept to a cross country invitational, track meet or golf tournament, some non-conference games could be played over the course of a long weekend in sports like volleyball or tennis.
There’s no reason why FSU (or the ACC) can’t jump in with other schools within a drive of 3-6 hours from Tallahassee to make games work in the fall for Olympics Sports. And to make it more financially attractive.