Ohio State is in the process of evaluating a possible $50 million loss in revenue from playing a season without fans in the nation's sixth-largest college football stadium.   

Buckeyes' Athletic Director Gene Smith put that possibility in perspective at the end of a Friday morning conference call with the media. He said the net losses from playing a single game without fans would be $5 million to $7 million.

That would suggest a loss that could approach $50 million for one of the country's richest athletic departments. Ohio State has played seven regular-season home games since 2005. 

"If you don't have a season, just do the math on that," Smith said "Seven home games. That's why seven home games have always been important to us." 

That projection does not include any loss in TV revenue. If there were no fans that hit would include the loss of ticket revenue, parking and concessions. 

Ohio State's athletic department is currently third nationally with revenues surpassing $205 million in the latest USA Today financial database

Smith said his department is beginning to crunch the numbers on what a fiscal 2020-2021 would look like. 

Ohio State will finish the fiscal year with reserves between $10.2 million to $10.3 million Smith said. That includes the shortfall in revenue distribution due to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.

Not that Smith is expecting an empty stadium. One of the most powerful and influential figures in college sports questioned whether games could be played 1) without fans and 2) without students on campus.

"That one I've thought about a little bit," Smith said. "I struggle with that concept. When I first heard [games without fans] I said, 'OK, that could work.' But if we don't have fans in the stands we've determined it's not safe for them in a gathering environment. Why would it be safe for the players?"

Same for playing games without students back on campus. That has largely been a deal breaker for administrators in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. However, Smith said he had heard in a general sense that option was being considered elsewhere in the country. 

"Think about that, if students aren't on campus that means the institution has made a decision it's not safe for those students to be here on campus," Smith said. "Why would it be safe for student-athletes? I keep hearing and it's like, 'How does that work? It doesn't make sense.'"

A full Ohio Stadium generates almost $50 million each year for Ohio State. USATSI

Ohio State finished third nationally in 2019 averaging more than 103,000 fans in 102,082-seat Ohio Stadium. 

Smith is a leading voice in college athletes, beginning his 14th year as AD at Ohio State. He is a former member of the men's basketball committee and executive director of the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association.

He is currently co-chair of the NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group that is expected to forward name, image and likeness recommendations later this month. 

  • He mentioned a "collective effort" by several parties in deciding when football will return. But major college athletics is anything but collaborative.
  • Leagues can't even decide on a uniform number of conference games. The Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten play nine. The ACC and SEC play eight. 
  • NCAA medical return-to-play guidelines are just that … guidelines, not hard and fast rules. 
  • The conferences themselves cancelled their basketball tournaments last month on their own in disjointed order.
  • If it's all about student-athlete welfare consider Wisconsin. The Big Ten powerhouse said the NCAA "overreacted" in granting an extra year of eligibility to athletes in spring sports. 

"We can't promise you anything," Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez told the Wisconsin State Journal.

"If it was football, we'd have a different conversation …," Smith said reacting to that story.  

Plus, there is no central authority in the sport. In times like these when one is desperately needed Smith said the Power Five commissioners and Division I Football Oversight Committee would take the lead. 

"Those are two we lean on," said Smith, who added: "You're right. There's probably going to be an inflection point. There's going to be a difference of opinion on something. The reality is we think everyone at least as athletic directors and Power Five commissioners and people on Football Oversight Committee, player safety is going to be paramount." 

What Smith would not predict a return to play. CBS Sports has previously reported all options are on the table for playing the 2020 season, including one that would be played in spring 2021. 

"I'm hopeful we have football season in the fall," Smith said. "I'm entering this return-to-play thought process with the hopes that some model will work for the fall. That might be naïve on my part. I have to believe something is going to happen. What it's going to look like, I don't know." 

The NCAA on Friday announced formation the Covid-19 Playing and Practice Seasons Working Group. In a release, the association admitted there will be "possible modifications of conditioning and training in the summer and preseason," for football.

"The foundation of return to practice and competition is public health," the NCAA said. "Assuming safety principles are in place, there are many 'what if' scenarios that this group will assess."