• Written by Molly Ott, Associate Professor of Higher & Postsecondary Education, Arizona State University

North Carolina Central University, a historically Black college, announced[1] in February that its men’s baseball team – which formed in 1911 – would cease to exist after this season. The school’s athletic director called it[2] “one of the most disappointing days in my career.” University leaders concluded that financial shortfalls due to COVID-19 were too much to support the team going forward.

Since COVID-19 emerged, dozens of colleges and universities have announced the elimination of different intercollegiate athletics teams[3]. The vast majority of these cuts are at schools and teams that never show up on ESPN’s SportsCenter[4].

As professors who study higher education, we took a closer look at the 300 teams[5] that were dropped between March and October 2020 by 78 colleges and universities.

It’s a diverse group of institutions. Some – like Stanford[6] and Brown – have multibillion-dollar endowments. They compete in the NCAA’s Division I, which is the top level of college sports.

But the majority of closures came at regional and local campuses that participate in the NCAA’s Division II and Division III, or the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics[7]. Also, around 30 teams were eliminated by community colleges.

Regardless of campus differences, COVID-19’s financial consequences are a shared rationale cited by university leaders for the recent closures. The 78 schools we examined spend around $87 million a year to keep all those teams going.

The impact of shutting down college sports teams goes beyond an athletic department’s bottom line. Many in the sports world have focused on what it means for U.S. participation in the Olympics[8].

But there are other implications – positive as well as negative – for campuses themselves and how schools attract prospective students.

Entertainment and cultural value

Last season was also the final one for the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s men’s hockey and women’s gymnastics programs. In September, UAA’s Board of Regents voted to shut down[9] both teams as well as alpine skiing. A last-minute fundraising drive raised over US$600,000 to save the latter[10].

Most university administrators don’t expect their athletics programs to make a lot of money. Only about 25 of the 1,100 NCAA member schools’[11] athletics departments generate a profit. Institutions often spend far more money than their teams will earn from ticket sales, broadcasting contracts and the like. Higher ed leaders say[12] sports provide entertainment and cultural value for students and the local community. Along with civic and performing arts activities, they liven up a campus.

Funding and donors

Certain sports, like football, are also useful for cultivating donor and political relationships. A 2003 study found that public universities with NCAA Division I football teams received about 6% more in state funding[13] annually than other institutions. And when those football teams win – especially against in-state rivals – state financial support goes up even more the next year.

Research also shows that having a varsity football program increases a school’s national visibility and status[14]. Given this, we weren’t surprised that only four of the 300 teams eliminated between March and October were football.

A changing student body

Many colleges and universities depend on varsity sports – like rowing, track and swimming – to attract more students to attend. Athletes make up a sizable proportion of the general undergraduate population, especially at smaller schools. For example, NCAA Division III campuses enroll an average of 2,600 students, and one out of every four[15] is a varsity athlete.

Approximately 500,000 athletes[16] compete across the three NCAA divisions each year. Research shows sports is the top factor[17] in athletes’ college choice decision – outweighing academics, the campus social scene or proximity to home.

For the 300 teams in our analysis that were recently cut, 2018-19 federal data[18] for each intercollegiate program indicates more than 5,400 athletes were members of those teams each year.

Most students who play college sports – including all of those at Division III[19] and Ivy League[20] programs – are not on an athletic scholarship[21].

So with fewer sports, the student body at some of these schools might change. For example, Stanford’s admissions office will no longer need to reserve 240 or so spots[22] for accomplished fencers, field hockey and squash players, rowers, sailors, synchronized swimmers, men’s volleyball athletes and wrestlers.

Cutting those sports could open up new opportunities[23] for applicants with different backgrounds, interests and achievements.

For students themselves, participating in varsity athletics is generally advantageous. Research[24] shows that athletic talent improves an applicant’s chances of admission[25] to top schools.

Playing sports can also help with the transition into college. An intercollegiate team provides a ready-made social group that can help the new team member adjust to their new school.

Baseball players celebrate on the field Student-athletes often have a built-in social group that helps with their college transition. Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images[26]

While the demands of big-time programs in men’s basketball and football can cause academic challenges[27] for these students, studies have found that overall, athletes perform just as well in classes[28] and have a higher likelihood of graduating[29] compared to other students.

Research[30] also shows that hiring managers value college sports experience. Some studies have found that former athletes have higher salaries and career success[31], on average, than other post-secondary graduates.

The full implications of the abrupt, unprecedented stop of intercollegiate athletics – and what it means for athletes, coaches, schools and beyond – is still unclear.

Eventually, “big-time” programs like Duke men’s basketball[32] and Louisiana State University football[33] will be back to business as usual[34]. For many other schools, COVID-19’s effects will be more expansive and long-lasting.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter[35].]

The financial savings for athletics departments are immediate and obvious. But a longer-term impact will be seen on enrollment, campus life and the communities where colleges are located.

Being a team member in a sport that doesn’t draw thousands of spectators or bring in millions of dollars still builds special connections to campuses that can foster institutional giving and enhance the health[36] and longevity of participants[37].


  1. ^ announced (
  2. ^ athletic director called it (
  3. ^ intercollegiate athletics teams (
  4. ^ ESPN’s SportsCenter (
  5. ^ 300 teams (
  6. ^ Stanford (
  7. ^ National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (
  8. ^ U.S. participation in the Olympics (
  9. ^ voted to shut down (
  10. ^ over US$600,000 to save the latter (
  11. ^ 25 of the 1,100 NCAA member schools’ (
  12. ^ Higher ed leaders say (
  13. ^ 6% more in state funding (
  14. ^ national visibility and status (
  15. ^ one out of every four (
  16. ^ 500,000 athletes (
  17. ^ sports is the top factor (
  18. ^ federal data (
  19. ^ Division III (
  20. ^ Ivy League (
  21. ^ not on an athletic scholarship (
  22. ^ 240 or so spots (
  23. ^ new opportunities (
  24. ^ Research (
  25. ^ improves an applicant’s chances of admission (
  26. ^ Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images (
  27. ^ can cause academic challenges (
  28. ^ just as well in classes (
  29. ^ have a higher likelihood of graduating (
  30. ^ Research (
  31. ^ higher salaries and career success (
  32. ^ Duke men’s basketball (
  33. ^ Louisiana State University football (
  34. ^ back to business as usual (
  35. ^ Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter (
  36. ^ enhance the health (
  37. ^ longevity of participants (

Authors: Molly Ott, Associate Professor of Higher & Postsecondary Education, Arizona State University

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News

Ny’a: My Musical Journey

It’s been such an amazing musical journey. Starting my career in the late 1990’s and selling over 500,000 copies of my debut album “Embrace” worldwide was the beginning of it all.  It was an incredible start of my career. It was a whirlwind for m...

Ny’a - avatar Ny’a

Pro Tips for Gambling Online

While online gambling sounds like an entertaining thing to spend your afternoons playing, it is also serious business for professional players. Those that take gambling seriously know all the tips and tricks that make a good game. Not only do the...

News Co - avatar News Co

The New Art: Balancing Human and Synth in Music Creation

It’s a great time to be alive for indie music makers! There are many of us, maybe including you, who are creating good music out there, armed with nothing but our own ingenuity and the few dollars in our shallow pockets. But what’s the best way to ...

Angela Predhomme - avatar Angela Predhomme

An unstoppable force in indie R&B music since her re-emergence in 2015, Ny’a releases “Waiting”

An unstoppable force in indie R&B music since her re-emergence in 2015, Ny’a has topped the World Indie and Euro Indie Charts countless times, hit the R&B Soul Chart and Club Music Chart Top 20 and became the first artist since Janet Jack...

News Co - avatar News Co

An Aussie Band Breaks Into The US Music Market

AN AUSTRALIAN BAND’S STEPS TAKEN TRYING TO BREAK INTO THE US MARKET By skinsNbones The steps skinsNbones have taken as a band trying to break into the music market haven’t been taken in the traditional Australian way. We didn’t have the opportun...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media


After a difficult year fraught with fear, anxiety and personal and sociopolitical struggles, nothing has the power to soothe our collective souls – or coincides as perfectly with our renewed sense of hope – than a heartfelt, blissfully beautiful love...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Metropolitan Business News

Essential Tips for Developing Corporate Websites

The corporate industry, just like the others, is experiencing a massive technological revolution. Organizations have changed their marketing criteria by embracing the internet. Therefore, do not be ...

News Co - avatar News Co

How to Make a Personal Injury Claim for Minors

As a parent, you want to make sure your child is always safe. But as much as you want to keep him under your watch, it is impossible to be there for him all the time. When he is out there attendin...

News Co - avatar News Co

Dress for Success - Style Essentials for Every Businessmen

Did you ever glance at a person in passing and instantly think, “Wow, they must be successful”? It seems like the rich and successful people always stand out from the crowd without even trying, ...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

Why use Google Adwords?

Google ads, previously known as Google AdWords is one of the best and most effective ways to advertise your business online. According to data released by Google, over 5.5 billion searches are made ...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Perfecting Web Design For A Health-Based Website

These days, when it comes to understanding what we put into our bodies, we are more focused than ever. It seems that everywhere we look, there is another health benefit, product, or trend on the...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

3 Realistic Reasons Why Physical Offices Are (Almost) Dead

Nowadays, more and more businesses are trying to find alternatives to traditional offices. For many years, brick and mortar offices have been at the heart of a company’s life. But work environme...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Writers Wanted

News Co Media

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion