Bill Beekman predicts break-even year for Michigan State athletics with football back on

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

The Big Ten made the decision to play football this fall, and at Michigan State, that news has come with predictable enthusiasm.

From President Samuel Stanley to coach Mel Tucker and the players on the team, the Spartans have made it clear they’re ready to get back on the field after it was revealed on Wednesday that conference games would begin on Oct. 23 and 24, signaling the beginning of Tucker’s first season at the helm.

Elijah Collins runs through drills at Michigan State practice this summer.

“Coach Tucker is over the moon to be playing,” athletic director Bill Beekman said in a virtual meeting with reporters. “It’s been a crazy ride I think for all of us these last handful of weeks, and Michigan State and Coach Tucker are very, very excited to get the season started.”

Who that is against and where it will be played is up in the air, as are several things still when it comes to the schedule. What is clear is that when teams do resume, there will be no public sale of tickets with families of players and coaches having priority in the stands.

It’s also clear is that nothing is guaranteed. With eight weeks to get in eight games, even the Big Ten’s plans for rapid testing aren’t likely to contain all outbreaks of COVID-19, and though there is virtually no wiggle room in the schedule, it’s something the Spartans, as well as every other team in the conference is prepared for.

“I think that's a very real concern,” Beekman said. “In our original schedule, when we had planned to start Sept. 5, you build in several bye weeks and had many contingency plans. Starting Oct. 24, we take a lot of those away and it becomes a much tighter schedule and I think it's probably inevitable that of the 14 teams there will be a time when one or more teams can't play for a week or more.

Bill Beekman

“We haven't worked through, as a conference, all the details of what that will mean and what the implications of that are, but I think it’s probably inevitable and that's just the circumstance we're in. But I think our thought was that playing the games in the fall and giving those teams that can stay well and can be responsible the opportunity to participate in bowl games or potentially the (College Football Playoff) we're worth taking that on.”

There are clear financial implications for Michigan State, too.

In August, just before the Big Ten made the original decision to postpone the fall season, Beekman said the athletic department was looking at a loss in revenue of around $80-85 million. Since then, there have been multiple cost-cutting efforts to help lessen that impact, one that will be far more manageable with an eight or nine-game season that is being planned.

“We've been doing a tremendous amount of budget cutting,” Beekman said. “We’ve been working very hard to trim the budget on the non-personnel side as a priority so that we could do as little personnel cutting as absolutely possible. … So if we play no football at all my projection was probably that we would have about a $30 million shortfall.

“My sense is that with the cuts we've put in place, playing the amount of football we're planning on playing, with the TV revenue but not revenue from tickets and other things, we should be about break even for this year.”

To get the entire season in and ensure that revenue comes in, Beekman said there will be an emphasis with the players and coaches to continue to act responsibly.

“This is the beginning of a race, it's not the end of the race,” Beekman said. “I do think that it's going to be very, very critical that our student-athletes, our coaches, everybody that might be around our team is following all the rules, is wearing their masks, being distant from each other when possible, you're washing their hands regularly, all the sort of basic things. Staying away from parties and large gatherings and, frankly, even small gatherings. … I think that's a message for everybody in our community, we need to be responsible and if we're responsible then we'll be able field a team and play the games and if we're not, we won't and we'll have to deal with the consequences of that.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau