Report Questions NCAA’s Preparedness for Pandemic

Andy Berg Headshot

Questions are beginning to arise around why the NCAA wasn’t better prepared for an eventuality like the COVID-19 crisis that shut down the association's annual men’s and women's college basketball tournaments.

According to The Washington Post, the men’s tournament generates about $800 million every year, or 70 percent of the NCAA’s $1.1 billion in annual revenue. Most of that money is doled out to conferences, colleges and universities throughout the country. Unfortunately, the NCAA’s event cancellation insurance covered just $270 million this year.

The result? Payouts to the conferences and schools this year will be reduced to a total of $225 million, down from the $600 million that’s usually expected. That decrease has left conferences and athletic departments scrambling to impose massive cuts across the board.

“The [NCAA] has prepared for a financial catastrophic event like the one we face now,” Ohio State president Michael Drake, chair of the NCAA’s board of governors, said in a news release. “We would be in a far worse position had it not been for this long-standing, forward-focused planning.”

That’s not the story that The Post uncovered after speaking with several former NCAA employees who said that the organization was better prepared years ago, when it had built up savings to help in the event of an emergency.

“It was a managerial error,” said one former NCAA employee who spoke to The Post on condition of anonymity. “They made a decision to be exposed. … This didn’t have to happen.”

Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer, said the decision to spend down the NCAA’s cash savings was made by university presidents on the board of governors. They also decided that increasing the NCAA’s event insurance was cost prohibitive.

“To suggest that the management made an error, I think, misunderstands our structure,” Remy told The Post. “It was a pretty prudent amount of insurance for an event that was likely never going to occur. … Clearly we got a pandemic, and it did occur.” 

Many who were interviewed for The Post’s article said that the $500 million in savings that the association built up between 2004 and 2014 was inviting antitrust lawsuits. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick was among those who argued the cash reserves were enticing lawyers to sue.

Another person who was interviewed said the theory came from Remy’s legal team. 

“They thought it was bait. … My thought all along is that’s bulls---,” the former employee said. “Any organization that makes more than $1 billion every year is always going to be a target for lawsuits. … Another half a billion in reserves isn’t going to make a difference.”

Remy acknowledged the theory but wouldn’t confirm it was the reason that the savings were drawn down.

“I agree it was a narrative that was out there,” Remy said. “The decision to draw down on the reserves was made for a variety of reasons.”

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