Navigating the Financial Fallout of COVID-19: Football Season and Beyond


  • Katie Davis, CPA, LSS Certified, Partner & Collegiate Athletics Services Leader, James Moore & Co. (Moderator)
  • Debra Boughton, Senior Associate Athletics Director/Revenue Generation, Chief of Staff, Northern Illinois University
  • Sarah Bousman, Chief Financial Officer, University of Nevada
  • Clayton Hamilton, Deputy AD/Internal Engagement, Finance & Capital Projects, University of Arkansas
  • Christopher Iacoi, Senior Associate Athletic Director & Chief Financial Officer, UCLA

Webinar Recap

On Tuesday, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”) hosted a webinar for its member institutions discussing some of the hot topics from a college sports financial perspective. In a constantly changing financial environment due to COVID-19, the virtual forum provided an updated perspective since LEAD1’s last financial perspective webinar in late April. The webinar, moderated by Katie Davis (Partner & Collegiate Athletics Services Leader at James Moore & Co., also the webinar’s sponsor), featured four prominent senior-level athletic department financial staff members including Clayton Hamilton (Deputy AD/Internal Engagement at the University of Arkansas), Christopher Iacoi (Senior Associate Athletic Director and Chief Financial Officer at UCLA), Debra Boughton (Senior Associate Athletics Director at Northern Illinois University), and Sarah Bousman (Chief Financial Officer at the University of Nevada).

First, the panel generally discussed some of the challenges with respect to managing athletic department budgets during COVID-19. While the panel acknowledged that the past several months have been a “roller coaster,” the panel agreed on methodically compartmentalizing all of the financial uncertainty (from a budgeting standpoint) by things “known,” “not known,” and “things that you think” may happen. For financial professionals this probably makes sense, but for others, to state a little differently, contingency planning seems to be the agreed upon method to manage all of the uncertainty.

Second, the panel agreed that virtual forms of communication, like Zoom, have become “the new normal” for athletic department financial professionals to communicate with colleagues, and this unintended consequence of COVID-19, may actually benefit college sports in the long-term (for faster and easier communication). In addition, while bringing in external revenue (such as donations and sponsorships) is critical for long-term sustainability, the panel came to the consensus that in such uncertain times, it is more important to “protect” expected revenue streams right now than to actually create new opportunities for bringing in revenue.

Third, from a cost reduction standpoint, particularly as it relates to COVID-19 expenses, such as testing, the panel recommended working closely with state, local and community resources to help mitigate such costs (for potential discounts and alike). Cutting costs obviously saves budget, so the panel stated that while tough decisions have to be made, student-athlete welfare should still be given priority when making such cuts. Athletic departments should also be thinking about the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine and such possible related costs. In this vein, LEAD1 athletic directors and CFO’s should also discuss possible debt financing with their conferences and universities to cover necessary short-term expenses.

A wide-range of other budget-related topics were discussed including student fees, NCAA and College Football Playoff (CFP) distributions, and additional student-athlete eligibility. On athletic department student fees, one-size does not fit all because every institution has a different policy (for example, some institutions may not require such fees from students). In terms of NCAA and CFP distributions, the consensus is that such possible revenue should not be budgeted for (or it should at least be moderately budgeted for). With respect to eligibility, the panel generally supports additional eligibility (from a financial standpoint) for those student-athletes affected by the pandemic.

Finally, in addition to consulting with legal counsel to analyze and evaluate all previously enacted contracts, athletic departments can use various metrics to determine the health of their department in real-time such as, for example, counting live attendance numbers (if at all applicable), and any external revenue brought in.