Gene Sapakoff is a columnist and College Sports Editor at The Post and Courier with focus mostly on Clemson, South Carolina, SEC and ACC athletics. But also golf, the Charleston RiverDogs, Atlanta Braves, Carolina Panthers. And road food.

Clemson South Carolina (copy)

A 2020 South Carolina-Clemson game could be one of the casualties of a coronavirus-marred football season but is just a little part of the mega-financial challenge for college athletics. Solutions include sponsorships and shorter trips for non-revenue teams. Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina

Canceling the East Carolina-South Carolina football game might close a sandwich shop in Las Cruces, N.M.

If Clemson has to cut the non-conference part of its 2020 schedule, a ripple rocks rowing programs in New England.

The college football coronavirus dominoes started falling this week, shoved by the Ivy League’s decision to scrap the season and the Big Ten’s conference-only schedule reaction. The Big Ten plan is a blueprint for other Power Five conferences to salvage some kind of football season within pandemic unpredictability.

But make no mistake: Whether there is a 12-game season or four-game season or no season, the Power Five fend-for-themselves COVID-19 default isn’t temporary. It’s the official start of a long-anticipated move to a more stratified hierarchy in which college sports are divided into two basic groups:

• Power Five conferences focusing mostly on football and basketball

• Everyone else struggling to survive by cutting sports, trimming athletic scholarships and/or dropping down in divisions, many to a non-scholarship model

Local businesses that depend on college sports are endangered.

Quick action is in order with two overdue options that deserve priority:

• Sponsorships

• Shorter trips

The Chick-fil-A Clemson women’s basketball team, for instance. The Publix College of Charleston men’s soccer team. And so on, down to the Mac’s Feed and Supply Wyoming Tech coed rodeo squad (currently facing a rebuilding year).

How about all sports programs beneath Power Five football and men’s and women’s basketball aligned into more geographically-friendly conferences, regardless of current program status?

RIP, ‘money games’


Go ahead, pinch your nose.

But grab your wallet. Because this is about extinction or survival for all but the big, cash-machine college sports programs.

Football supports all other sports at most schools, certainly almost everywhere beneath the Power Five. And “money games” support football at those schools, some of which have already cut programs since March.

The Big Ten opting for a conference games-only model just cost the Mid-American Conference $10.5 million, per USA Today. Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois had two 2020 money games apiece scheduled against Big Ten teams.

More potential disaster: All three of the Palmetto State’s Southern Conference teams scheduled 2020 games at SEC or ACC stadiums (The Citadel at Clemson, Wofford at South Carolina, Furman at Tennessee) and Charleston Southern of the Big South Conference hopes to play at Arkansas.

More dominoes

The dominoes will keep falling through virtually every college sports program. Baseball at Claflin. Softball at Francis Marion.

Will the South Carolina-Clemson football rivalry continue this year as it has every autumn since 1909, thus continuing the second-longest uninterrupted series in college football (after Minnesota-Wisconsin)?

Probably, even if the schools have to arrange an unofficial game that doesn’t count on the College Football Playoff computer.

But a missing Tigers-Gamecocks clash at Death Valley in 2020 won’t leave the kind of divot that would come with the widespread loss of track, golf, tennis and soccer programs as scholarship opportunities nationwide.

Red-ink relief planning is urgent.

Sponsorships can include multi-national corporations supporting an entire conference and a shoe company bank-rolling all college cross country teams.

Let a popular mom-and-pop diner help a mid-major tennis team, complete with broad naming rights and uniform design.

Brainstorming with CEOs (and the “Shark Tank” team) is a good place to start.

Surely, the sharp business types will recognize the folly of non-revenue sports teams playing conference schedules that involve lots of air travel and hotel bills.

Selected non-conference games, fine.

But playing closer to home — like Clemson and South Carolina in a non-revenue sports league with Furman, Wofford, Coastal Carolina, The Citadel, Charleston Southern, College of Charleston, S.C. State and Winthrop — is program survival-friendly for everyone.

More family and friends will show up at road games, matches, races and tournaments.

No doubt, there are potential long-term positives to this coronavirus crisis. They might include more emphasis on academic pursuits in high school and middle school as a way to obtain scholarship money.

Surely, more competitive intramurals are coming as athletic grants are slashed.

In the short-term, however, the college sports world as we know it is likely to change more than at any time, or at least since the passage of Title IX in 1972.

Possibly since the invention of the football helmet several decades earlier.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff