In a virtual press conference Thursday afternoon, Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman spoke on the Big Ten Conference's decision to postpone fall sports and how his department plans to recover from what he estimated earlier this week to be a $80-85 million loss, as reported by the Lansing Economic Club.
MSU Athletic Director Bill Beekman speaks on how the athletic department will recover from fall losses
“I think it’s possible to be disappointed and still understand the logic of the decision,” Beekman said of the season's postponement. “... There were just too many unknowns to proceed with the season, and so in that context the presidents made a wise decision to postpone play.”
Beekman referenced a statement he made in the spring where he claimed that no football this fall would be an “existential moment for college athletics.” He said that the possibility he was mentioning is now part of reality.
The biggest hit to Beekman’s department will come from the loss of football. For Michigan State, football is one of the two sports — the other being men’s basketball — that generate revenue for the department.
Beekman said that if the university has the ability to play these revenue sports they absolutely will, even expressing his optimism that they would be played in the spring. However, the loss this fall will create leaves questions for those non-revenue athletic teams.
“As it relates to the other sports there are some open questions as to how and when we will be able to play them from a health, safety and wellness perspective and then certainly there are financial implications of playing those sports," Beekman said. "We haven't made any final decisions, but in some cases we are in a wait and see mode.”
According to Beekman, last year's athletic budget was $140 million, which is near average for most years. Of that total, $42 million was spent on personnel costs such as salaries and compensation, another $15 million is spent on scholarships, leaving the remaining $83 million to cover all operational costs from facilities and equipment to travel and operating expenses.
Beekman said that the department will approach the budget shortage by first cutting as many operational expenses where possible by deferring maintenance, canceling subscriptions or traveling lighter and cheaper.
“This isn’t a year to try and figure out how we shave 10% off of this or 5% off of that,” Beekman said. “This is a year where we start with zero and try to spend as little as we possibly can.”
So, what about this spring season?
Despite how simple it may sound to postpone sports to the spring, there’s plenty of logistical and practical questions that come along with this decision, which Beekman addressed.
For fall sports — specifically football — Beekman said his main priority when establishing a spring season schedule is looking ahead to make sure a full fall 2021 season can still operate. He said that the decision must take into account the time off athletes need between seasons to recover and rest their bodies.
“From my perspective, the highest priority as we think about planning is making sure that we can have a robust 2021 season, and my hope would be that we are able to play full 12 games in the 2021 season that looks and feels like the season last year,” Beekman said. “... That may push us to have a spring season that is a little shorter in nature than we may have otherwise hoped, or that maybe runs a little bit earlier.”
In terms of basketball — categorized as a spring activity despite starting play in November — Beekman said not much conversation between himself and the fellow Big Ten athletic directors has taken place.
However, when asked about the possibility of a bubble environment, similar to how the NBA currently operates, Beekman said that basketball may be feasible to play in that kind of environment.
“We are talking about student-athletes, not professional athletes, and I think it's important to remember that they’re students first,” Beekman said. “With that said, with most of our universities fully engaging or near fully engaging in online classes or hybrid classes I think the question of being off campus for a longer period of time becomes more feasible ... I think in that format it may be possible to be a student and an athlete and not be on campus.”