Big Ten and Pac-12 Are First Marquee Conferences to Postpone Football

“This is an incredibly sad day for our student-athletes, who have worked so hard and been so vigilant fighting against this pandemic to get this close to their season,” Smith said in a statement.

Canceling the Big Ten season in its entirety would have assuredly starved schools of tens of millions of dollars. Now some of that money could be delayed instead, causing new pain on campuses but perhaps arresting a graver economic calamity.

Still, in a statement on Tuesday, leaders at Wisconsin, which had suggested it could miss out on up to $100 million without a football season, said there would be “a major financial impact on not only our athletic department, but the many businesses and members of our community who rely on Badger events to support their livelihoods.”

In the statement, Rebecca M. Blank, Wisconsin’s chancellor, and Barry Alvarez, its athletic director, warned that there were “many obstacles to overcome” for fall sports to be played early in 2021.

Sports officials have spent months considering whether it would be feasible to hold a football season on time, with deliberations frequently hobbled by the sport’s governance system. Although the N.C.A.A. has some power over football, it does not have absolute authority, and so decisions about the precise course of a season were left to individual conferences — each with its own concerns, including media deals, constituencies and levels of risk tolerance.

Last year, college football brought in nearly $1.6 billion in advertising dollars, excluding digital platforms, according to the research firm Kantar. Several companies, including AT&T and Allstate, each spent more than $30 million during the season.

Bob Chapek, the chief executive of The Walt Disney Co., said during a conference call with analysts last week that the company, which owns ESPN, has “certain covenants that we have to meet in terms of programming hours with our partners.” ESPN’s advertising revenue sank in the most recent quarter in part because of the lack of live sports, according to Christine McCarthy, Disney’s chief financial officer.

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