Kent State, Akron and the rest of the Mid-American Conference won’t be playing sports this fall. The MAC became the first major conference to postpone the season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Big Ten conference officially scrapped its season on Tuesday.
WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto says the decision is an opportunity for the MAC to take a step back and address schools' huge football program deficits.
Pluto says it became nearly impossible to keep players safe, especially when MAC schools lost their "money games." Those are games mid-level schools schedule on the road against powerhouses for the big payout. For example, Kent State was scheduled to play Penn State, Kentucky and Alabama this fall and net $5 million. Conferences like The Big Ten had scrapped those games immediately to keep players close to home.
But Pluto says those games highlight a much bigger problem with MAC school budgets.
"If you have to have your kids play three of those big time games a year to bring in the money, and you still don't break even, something's broken," Pluto said.
"The typical MAC football budget is $8.7 million for football, and it's not bringing in anything close to that."
Scholarships and coaches' salaries
Division I schools can award up to 85 football scholarships. Pluto says that amounts to roughly $30,000 for each student.
Pluto argues those scholarships should be in line with NFL rosters, which are around 60 players.
And he argues for a coaching salary cap.
"Toledo head coach Jason Candle is making $1 million, with the rest of the MAC coaches averaging around a half million dollars per year," Pluto said. "Don't you think you can get a good head coach for $300,000? Because he is using it as a stepping stone job anyway," he said.
Is cutting football the answer?
Much of the focus recently has been on The University of Akron, which has been making cuts to stem a $65 million budget deficit. As part of $4 million in athletics spend cuts, the school dropped men's and women's cross-country, men's golf and women's tennis. That was followed by elminating 178 positions, including 97 faculty.
The faculty union had argued the school could save money by either elminating football or leaving Division I. President Gary Miller has argued it would end up costing millions in exit fees and penalities.
Pluto says schools like Akron and Kent don't have to drop football. It should be up to the MAC to set them up for success.
"Akron isn't the only school with money problems," Pluto said. Kent State also announced 20% cut to its athletics programs. "And I'm sure other schools are too. Most of these cuts they're making are not a permanent answer to the situation. Why don't we set it up so it's smart and fiscally responsible football?"
A broken system
Pluto says that the MAC's financial system isn't just broken, but "in pieces."
"The pieces have been blown all over the financial landscape, it's impossible to put it all back together again," he said.
And Pluto doubts that the MAC will take the time to restructure and will instead "put a Band-Aid on it."
"The MAC is so good and I'm almost pleading, because I like the MAC and I want to see this work and I think football done the right way for the MAC is really a good thing. But football done the way it is now is a disaster."