Owen Yancher: Losing nonconference football might be a backbreaker for UC Davis
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Owen Yancher: Losing nonconference football might be a backbreaker for UC Davis

Let’s face it. The likelihood of a 2020 college football season seems to be fading.

The Ivy League has already put its finger in the dike on fall sports. And now the Big Ten and Pac-12 (with reports of the ACC soon to follow) have canceled outright all nonconference match ups for football, volleyball and soccer.

While the Big Sky Conference, in which UC Davis participates for football, has not yet made such an edict, athletic organizations at all levels of sport across the country have made similar decisions over the last several weeks as administrators continue to search for ways to salvage a season in a year that’s been tougher to navigate than a Greek labyrinth.

So as we only now truly begin to digest what the loss of fall sports might mean for UCD, it’s worth remembering that the Aggies are due to rake in some serious dough this football season.

Thanks to the pair of FBS teams coach Dan Hawkins has lined up for UCD to grapple with in the early going, Davis is due to collect almost $800,000 between its contests at Nevada ($375,000) on Aug. 29 and San Jose State ($400,000) on Sept. 12.

For larger athletic programs like Nevada or Washington (which was slated to host Sacramento State in early September), missing out on that amount of income may not be a backbreaking loss. But for UCD, which operates on a far smaller annual budget, buoyed by student fees, that $800,000, combined with a loss in revenue from advertising and ticket sales (assuming games are played with no fans present) could account for 5 percent or more of the Aggies’ funding.

For a program already hurting financially after the abrupt end to this past spring season, losing those two games would be a fiscal nightmare.

To put things in perspective, the Wall Street Journal reports that Kent State — a university in Ohio that, like Davis, relies on its football program to prop up the other 18 teams in its athletic department — was already in the process of trimming 20 percent of its roughly $30 million operating budget before the Big Ten canceled the Golden Flashes’ opener versus Penn State.

Comparatively, UC Davis has 25 varsity sports and exhausts a budget of almost $10 million more each year.

And you thought the Aggies’ pocket book would be taking a big hit?

Nevada will miss out on $1.5 million should the SEC nix its Sept. 5 game at Arkansas.

And SJSU? The mighty Spartans were set to collect the same amount from Penn State for their Sept. 19 clash in Happy Valley. They can now kiss that cash goodbye following the Big Ten’s conference-only decree last Friday.

So what’s in the contract language for Davis’ opener in Reno?

According to the Wolfpack agreement, “the penalty for either team if they choose to cancel the game will be $500,000 payable to the noncanceling institution.”

Here’s looking at you, USC.

“Furthermore,” the contract reads, “should the visiting institution fail to appear … the visiting institution shall pay the host institution the amount set forth (in this case $375,000) as liquidated damages.”

I’m already picturing coach Hawk outside Gary May’s window on College Park come August blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” from a boombox, begging the chancellor to let the Aggies defy the Big Sky to play Nevada and avoid the penalty.

However, the contract stipulates that the pact is void in the event that it becomes impossible to play the football game for circumstances including “fire, flood, earthquake, war, invasion, hostilities, rebellion, insurrection, confiscation order of the government, military or public ity, or prohibitory or injunctive order of any competent judicial or other government ity, civil or military official.”

Basically, the University of Nevada lawyers who drew this thing up seem to have planned for everything, except an epidemic.

But as it’s written, it appears any government order prohibiting play or gatherings of 20-or-more individuals in Washoe County would indeed nullify the contract.

A later clause also spells out that “neither party shall be held responsible to the other for any loss or liquidated damages resulting from … a change in the scheduling requirements of either party’s member conference.”

So, should the Aggies’ Big Sky Conference or Nevada’s Mountain West executives follow suit with the Pac-12 and scrap nonleague match ups, they too would be off the hook.

The UC Davis-San Jose State agreement contains similar provisions, with both contracts allowing for termination “by written mutual consent of both parties.”

“We’ve planned for so many different contingencies,” UCD’s Senior Associate Athletics Director Josh Flushman says. “A delayed season, a shortened season, conference-only … we’re planning, just in case — even though we’re pretty sure most of them aren’t going to happen.

“We’re trying to be prepared for anything.”

Maybe those contract lawyers should also add “alien invasion” when they update those game agreements for next year. Who knows what 2021 will bring?

— Reach Owen Yancher at [email protected] Follow him via Twitter at @530athletics.

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