KENT — A Kent State University athletic budget already reeling from the loss of various prominent revenue streams due to COVID-19 issues was dealt a potential season-ending blow on Thursday, when the Southeastern Conference announced that it will only play conference football games in 2020.
The Golden Flashes were scheduled to visit SEC members Kentucky (Sept. 19) and Alabama (Sept. 26) during the first month of the upcoming season.
“We’re aware of the SEC’s decision. We won’t be commenting further at this time,” KSU Director of Athletics Joel Nielsen said on Thursday.
The Flashes were slated to open the season at Penn State on Sept. 5, but that game was canceled on July 9 when the Big Ten announced that it would only play conference games this fall due to COVID-19 concerns. The SEC was fully expected to follow suit, and finally did so on Thursday.
Kent State was set to receive $5 million for playing the three non-conference games that have now been canceled this fall. Based on last year’s operating revenue total for athletics of just under $29.5 million, KSU could have just lost 17 percent of its projected income for the 2020-21 athletic season.
Last year, almost half of Kent State’s operating revenue total for athletics ($29,460,111) came from student fees (just over $14 million), which will decrease based on lower enrollment numbers for 2020-21 caused by COVID-19. The Flashes also lost a major source of revenue last year due to the cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Kent State will seek to recoup some or all of the money they were set to receive from Penn State, Kentucky and Alabama by legal means in the coming weeks. The Flashes’ 2020-21 athletics season could ultimately hinge on the success or failure of those pursuits.
The Flashes were set to collect $1.5 million for visiting the Nittany Lions according to the game contract, which was signed by Nielsen on June 1 of 2019. The wording in one paragraph of the contract provides reason to believe Kent State could collect a portion or all of that sum, while the language in a separate paragraph seems to indicate Penn State will not be obligated to pay anything.
Nielsen has declined to answer previous questions about the Kent State-Penn State contract specifics, only stating that both schools are “looking into the contract obligations.”
Earlier this week MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher publicly stated his belief that the Big Ten would pay its non-conference contracts in full based on conversations he had with Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren. This might happen, based on the close relationship the Big Ten and the MAC have shared throughout the years.
The SEC and the MAC have no such ties, although Alabama head coach Nick Saban — a member of KSU’s 1972 MAC championship team — might see fit to help his alma mater in its financial time of need.
The Flashes were set to receive $1.75 million for each game against Kentucky and Alabama according to those respective game contracts.
The Penn State contract is six pages long, but the Kentucky contract is only two pages in length. The paragraph that deals with contract termination states that “in the event of fire, flood, hurricane, tornado … or any other event or reason beyond the control of either party … (make) it impossible or impractical to play the game, both parties shall be relieved of any and all obligations of this agreement.”
The Kentucky contract was signed by Nielsen on October 3 of 2016.
The contract with Alabama, signed by Nielsen on June 13 of 2017, is four pages in length. The ninth item in the contract states that “it is agreed by both parties that in the event of a breach by either party, actual damages would be of an uncertain amount and, in view of that fact, the breaching party shall pay the non-breaching party $1 million as reasonable and contemplated liquidated damages.”
Item 11 deals with termination, and is worded exactly the same as the termination paragraph in the Kentucky contract.
Nielsen also declined to comment on Thursday when asked about the 2020 football home opener. The Flashes are currently scheduled to host Kennesaw State on Sept. 12. According to the contract for that contest, Kent State is set to pay Kennesaw State $315,000 for visiting Dix Stadium.
According to the Kent State-Kennesaw State contract language, if the game is canceled due to “unforeseen catastrophes or disasters beyond the control of either party,” or canceled/rescheduled due to a change in the scheduling requirements of either team’s conference, all financial obligations are forgiven.