With the news that a potentially alarming number of Ohio State football players are unavailable due to COVID-19, ESPN is being “flexible” with its production plans in case the College Football Playoff National Championship must be postponed, sources told FOS.
For now, officials including Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne have said the game is still set for Jan. 11, but ESPN is working on contingency plans.
On Tuesday, AL.com first reported that the number of Ohio State players unavailable due to COVID-19 is concerning. While it’s unclear how many Buckeyes have been suffering through the team’s latest outbreak, the Big Ten’s guidelines mandate that teams shutter if the seven-day average positivity rate tops 5%.
“There’s noise coming out of Ohio State they had COVID issues,” one source told FOS. “The Alabama side seems good.”
ESPN declined to comment, and a spokesperson for the CFP didn’t respond to a request.
Impact on ESPN
ESPN has become expert at remotely producing live sporting events during the pandemic, and likely would lose less money in travel and expense costs than it would have previously, especially given that a postponed game would still take place at Hard Rock Stadium.
- Every year, ESPN “MegaCasts” the CFP National Championship, with over a dozen separate productions and hundreds of staffers who might have to be rescheduled.
- Besides game production, ESPN would have to reschedule all of its studio “shoulder” programming scheduled to air before, during and after the game, potentially to be replaced by NFL programming.
CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock recently told ESPN that a contingency date for the game at its original location would be Jan. 18.
Revenue Status Quo
The CFP gets major cash from ESPN, which pays $470 million annually for CFP rights, according to the Wall Street Journal, and ticket revenue. While all the contracts have been “scrapped” and rewritten this year, there’s certainly still revenue to go around, Bowl Season Executive Director Nick Carparelli told reporters in October.
In normal years, conferences can get up to $66 million each in guaranteed CFP distributions, and receive $6 million for every team participating in a semi-final game or $4 million for every team playing in a “non-playoff” bowl game.
FOS senior writer Michael McCarthy contributed to this story.