Shorter football seasons and limitations on stadium capacities could have a major impact on local high schools’ athletics budgets this year.
Football is a major revenue-generator for schools and booster clubs, and typically brings in tens of thousands of dollars from ticket sales, concessions, reserve seating sales, sports guide sales and the like.
Those funds, in turn, not only help pay for football, but for other sports that generate less revenue.
School leaders say they could take a hit financially if the football season is cut short but were more worried that students might not be able to play at all, due to restrictions put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
They say that even if football revenues are down, sports would go on as allowed under state and association rules, with schools saying they have reserve funds and other revenues in place to make up for losses.
“Football is a big deal and can make money for the school, but we’re not looking through the financial lens right now,” said Jackson Preparatory School Athletic Director Will Crosby. “Right now, we want every athlete to play whatever sport they’re in.”
Prep is governed by the Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS). The agency had not released guidelines for the 2020 football season.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association, which governs most public schools, as well as St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, has delayed the start of the upcoming football season by two weeks.
High school football typically begins in mid to late August, and now has been pushed to September.
Meanwhile, under Gov. Tate Reeves’ current executive order, stadiums must limit seating to 25 percent of its capacity.
If that order remains in place, schools like Jackson Prep, Madison Ridgeland Academy (MRA) and Jackson Academy (JA) could be out tens of thousands of dollars.
Ticket costs for those schools are set by MAIS and are $8 for adults and $7 for students.
Depending on who they’re playing, JA varsity games attract between 1,500 and 3,000 people, Athletic Director David Sykes said.
“Financially, it’s a big source of revenue,” he said. “Tickets, concessions, reserve seating – all of that is part of it. There’s a lot of chairback seats we sell in advance.”
“Football at every school, and basketball, as far as money goes, really carries the whole sports program,” Madison-Ridgeland Academy (MRA) Athletic Director Richard Duease said.
Duease said that at MRA, all funding for athletics is generated from athletic events and athletic fund-raisers.
Those monies, in turn, are used to cover various expenses, such as chartering buses for sports teams to travel on longer trips, something that cost the athletics department around $100,000 last year.
“We have reserve funding, so we’re going to make it,” he said. “It won’t be as profitable as in past years, but we’re not going to scrimp on equipment and how we take care of our athletes,” he said.
Another factor could play an even bigger role in sports this year – the limit on outdoor gatherings.
Currently, outdoor gatherings in 31 counties are limited to 20 people, something that would make it impossible for two football teams to take the field at the same time.
“Like other schools, we’re waiting to hear what the governor says, and if he gives us permission to play, we’ll move forward,” said DeWayne Cupples, St. Andrew’s athletic director.
“We’re hoping everybody gets the greenlight and hoping the cases go down, so everyone can play.”
Reeves’ orders were put in place in July, in response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases.
Last week, the state experienced its highest one-day total of new cases on record, with 1,775 cases reported on July 29.
Reeves’ mandates were in place at least until August 17.
Prep’s first game is slated for August 20, in Jackson, Ala., while JA is slated to take on Pillow Academy on August 21.
St. Andrew’s takes the field against Pisgah High on September 4, according to a schedule found on the school’s website.
MRA’s first game was also scheduled for August 21, a home stand against Briarcrest Christian Memphis. Duease said that game might have to be rescheduled for later in the season.
“I don’t think that’s going to work out,” he said. “If not, our first two games will be on the road and we won’t play at home until September. By then, I hope that 25 percent limitation moves up to 50, 75 or 100 percent.”
Officials with MAIS couldn’t be reached for comment.