Division II, III, college athletics programs absorb financial blow of the pandemic

Published: September 24, 2020
By: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

(The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel posted an article concerning Division II and III college athletics programs. You can read the article below)

The University of Wisconsin-Parkside launched RangerVision 2020 on March 5 to raise $5 million to renovate the gym and create a golf center and multipurpose turf center where their swimming pool used to be. 

“Fast forward a week after that day, we were making the decision to cancel winter championships and soon after that we were turning our campus into a remote learning environment and cancelling all sports for the rest of the year,” Parkside athletic director Andrew Gavin said. “So, the timing (of the fundraising) was interesting.” 

Parkside has continued to raise money throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Gavin said, but some of those who might donate for the upgrades have not donated as much money or have held off giving to the university. 

At UW-Oshkosh, when the winter season ended they needed to coordinate travel to get teams home.

“We were in the postseason when we got the notification,” said Oshkosh athletic director Darryl Sims. “We had programs out across the country getting ready to compete for national championships and we had to call them and tell them to come home.” 

And bad news keeps coming for sports fans in the college towns across the state. 

On Sept. 18, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference voted unanimously to suspend all winter sports through the end of 2020, which includes men’s and women’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s indoor track & field, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and wrestling.

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled college sporting events since March. And while the attention has turned to Division I schools like the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University, Division II and III sports departments are absorbing the financial blow of a lack of sports that echo throughout the school and towns in which these universities reside.  

At UW-Whitewater football games, tailgating has been “robust” in the Perkins Stadium parking lot, athletic director Ryan Callahan said.  

“Athletics doesn’t make parking revenue, it goes to the police services,” Callahan said, adding that the Whitewater Police Department provides security for the games. “We provide the game but ultimately police services gets he money. Now they’re taking a hit from not getting that revenue.” 

And with no sports, the meals after the games and other commerce surrounding games is not happening.  

“The bigger hit for not having football is basically a hit on the community,” Callahan said. “When we have a football game day, the people that make the most money are probably going to be the community and different campus services.” 

No games means no fans, which also means no concessions. 

“With not having concessions we’ve had to come up with different ways to be able to ensure that staff is paid despite the fact that we don’t have concessions going on in the fall,” Oshkosh's Sims said. “That has really created a different challenge for us that we certainly hadn’t encountered up until this particular point.” 

Besides sports, the cancellations of the Experimental Aircraft Association and Country and Rock USA were "monumental hits" to the Oshkosh community, Sims said.

“It is really, really fluid, things are happening all the time and you just have to be prepared to have conversations, meet with the appropriate individuals and move forward,” Sims said.

Lack of camps creates negative financial impact

One of the biggest areas that impacted athletic departments was the inability to have summer camps and clinics. 

“That was huge," Callahan said. "A lot of our programs, specifically our bigger programs, a lot of those camps will subsidize up to 60% of our operating budget (for those programs).” 

For more than 20 years, the Northwestern University football team has used Parkside, the only Division II athletic program in the state, for its fall training camp, calling it “Camp Kenosha.” 

“They love coming here but beyond that there’s revenue loss from that not just through athletics, they utilize our dorms, the utilize our dining services,” Gavin said. “So there’s some lost revenue in other areas of campus as well.” 

Gavin said Parkside also rents its athletic facilities to high schools for meets and events, and other athletic programs to use. 

“The financial blow from the rentals will be more significant as we continue through this year,” Gavin said. “I don’t know the full scope of that financial burden but certainly there have been canceled events and lost revenue.”  

At Oshkosh, like other schools, coaches use camps and other activities to fundraise for their programs and pay for their operations budget.  

“Clearly they’ve had to scale way back on what they would normally do,” Sims said. “Just not being able to have those additional resources available is something of great concern.” 

'Praying to all things sports'

While each athletic department is weathering the financial storm the pandemic has created, another potential major financial blow is on the horizon. 

When the NCAA cancelled the 2020 men’s basketball tournament, the NCAA estimates it lost more than $700 million from ticket sales and its multimedia agreement with CBS Sports and Turner.

March Madness provides an overwhelming majority of the funding for the NCAA and those funds are distributed to programs throughout the country.  

According to the NCAA, in 2020, Division II received 4.37% of actual revenue, or just under $14 million, a $30 million decrease from last year. Division III received 3.18% of actual revenue, or nearly $11 million, a $22 million decrease. 

The funds from this distribution help pay for travel and other expenses related to tournaments and championship games, like when Whitewater traveled to play in the Stagg Bowl in December in Shenandoah, Texas.  

And the possibility of the 2021 NCAA basketball tournament being cancelled is something athletic directors shudder to think about. 


“We are praying to all things sports related that that does not happen,” Sims said. 

Callahan said for Whitewater, not having the tournament would "be a big hit, but it wouldn’t necessarily be a knockout blow."

“But if Division I can’t have the March Madness tournament that’s going to be a huge hit for all divisions because that basically funds all of Division I, II and III championships," Callahan said. 

Gavin said he would feel bad for the players and coaches if another season was canceled. 

“If March Madness is canceled, that means so are Division II winter championships,” Gavin said. “How that lingers, in terms of the financial impact, remains to be seen... we’ll understand further what the impact will be when it happens, but hopefully that’s not the case.” 

Read the full Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article here.

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