Friday’s Podcast: College Sports after COVID

Like most everyone else, I’ve found it hard to tear my attention away from the unfolding election drama. That story is obviously important, but today I’m here to provide some measure of distraction, with a couple of posts having absolutely nothing to do with Donald Trump, Joe Biden, or the future of American democracy.

First, I’m happy to announce the return of The 252, “sports talk radio as done by academics” like my colleagues Chris Moore, Sam Mulberry, and me. Though tied to a course that I won’t be teaching against until Spring 2022, we still like to keep our eyes on sports and their larger significance. So having not podcast since mid-August, it seemed like it was high time we check in on how COVID is reshaping sports.

(We actually recorded this on the morning of Election Day, but I promise: it’s not about electoral politics.)

We recapped how the NBA, NHL, and MLB seasons went and offered quick takes on the odd nature of televised football minus screaming crowds. But mostly, we wanted to think out loud about the short- and long-term impact of the pandemic on college sports. As of last month, 26 Division I institutions have already cut more than 90 sports programs (affecting something like 1,500 student-athletes), owing primarily or secondarily to COVID-related loss in revenues. Closest to home, that list includes the University of Minnesota, whose board of regents voted to shutter men’s gymnastics, tennis, and indoor track and field.

Over the summer, Stanford University cut 11 varsity sports, including wrestling – Creative Commons (Chris Hunkeler)

To this point, most of the cuts have affected the so-called “Olympic sports” — relatively small programs that don’t generate football- or basketball-like income for universities but help prepare athletes for national and international competition: everything from swimming and diving to fencing, sailing, and wrestling. But we also noted some cuts in more prominent sports, most notably track and field, which is one of the few sports to be offered by the majority of all NCAA members.

What will this mean for the long-term future of college sports — and higher ed more generally? Stream or download the episode from Podbean or Apple Podcasts to hear our predictions!