Scrambling to salvage a spring football season, Big Sky Conference athletics directors hope to have a new plan in place by late this week, according to University of Idaho athletics director Terry Gawlik.
The need to reconfigure what had been a six-game season among 12 Big Sky teams arose after Montana, Montana State and Portland State announced last week they were dropping out of that format. Sacramento State last October had already signaled it would not attempt to play spring football.
On Saturday, Gawlik said the conference ADs are trying to preserve a six-game season of three home and three away games. But with an odd number of teams, nine, left after the recent dropouts, “how do you make that work?” she wondered.
Originally, the teams were scheduled to play six games in seven weeks. Preserving a bye week is still a goal, said Gawlik, and conference officials are also trying to figure out a way schools can pivot quickly to pick up a league game if a scheduled opponent on short notice is unable to play a game because of COVID problems.
One thing Big Sky ADs are not looking at is playing nonconference opponents, Gawlik said.
Even before the pandemic fundamentally disrupted college sports, UI was facing an ongoing budget deficit in athletics of about $1.5 million.
“We’ll do anything we can to play,” Gawlik said. “But obviously, we don’t have income.”
When the fall 2020 football season was canceled, Idaho lost guaranteed revenue-generating games with Washington State and Temple. This spring, university leaders are still waiting for direction from Idaho Gov. Brad Little and local health officials on whether fans will be allowed in the Kibbie Dome to watch the Vandals play.
“We have the potential to lose ticket revenue and concession revenue. It’s a work in progress,” Gawlik said.
“We are working on ways to limit our budget overage, but we are behind.”
Nonetheless, UI hopes to avoid cutting sports, she said. Idaho currently offers 16 men’s and women’s sports, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association requires schools to have a minimum of 14. Schools must also maintain proportional athletics opportunities for men and women to remain in compliance with federal Title IX requirements, Gawlik pointed out.
“Nobody likes to cut sports,” Gawlik said. “I have had a lot of conversations with (UI president Scott Green) about this. He does not want to. I do not want to.”
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