The Big Ten became the first Power Five conference to cancel nonconference football games earlier this month.
The next day, the Pac-12 followed suit.
If the decisions trigger a domino effect, prompting similar moves from the Atlantic Coast, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences, schools from the Mid-American Conference will continue to feel the weight of the cancellations.
MAC schools, which include six in Ohio, could lose as much as $20.4 million in payouts from lucrative guarantee games against major-conference teams, according to copies of the game contracts reviewed by The Dispatch.
A majority of the payments would have come from the Big Ten. Ball State, Bowling Green and Central Michigan were each scheduled to face two teams from the conference in September, among a total of 10 guarantee games between the Big Ten and MAC.
Impending scheduling decisions from the SEC could put more money in jeopardy.
Kent State’s nonconference schedule features matchups with Alabama and Kentucky that would bring in a combined $3.5 million. The Golden Flashes had been scheduled to visit Penn State for the season opener, with a payment of $1.5 million, before the game was canceled.
Three cancellations could leave the athletic department without a combined total of $5 million.
The ultimate financial toll of canceled nonconference games is yet to be determined.
Major-conference schools could seek to invoke the "force majeure" clauses that are included among the provisions in the game contracts, an effort to avoid payouts amid cancellations.
Many administrators expect the issue to be sorted out among the general counsel offices of the universities. A renegotiated payout could be struck.
In a phone interview last week, MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said he expects the schools in his conference to still receive paychecks.
"Just because the Big Ten has decided to prioritize their conference schedule, it doesn’t relieve the institutions of the need to fulfill the terms of the contract," he said.
Steinbrecher considered one notable distinction with the canceled nonconference games. Under the current circumstances, teams are still moving forward with plans to take the field this fall.
"No one’s canceled the season," he said. "No one’s said we’re shortening the season. No one’s said we’re playing fewer games. In fact, we have people talking about adding games. Those are all issues that’ll have to be determined as we go down the road here."
There is no firm time frame for when the rest of the major conferences might recommit to their schedules for the upcoming season or pivot to a conference-only slate, as the Big Ten and Pac-12 did on July 9 and July 10.
Last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said important decisions would not be made until the end of this month, saying the stretch on the calendar would "provide the best clarity" for the league.
His statement followed a meeting of the conference’s athletic directors in Birmingham, Alabama.
Commissioners John Swofford of the ACC and Bob Bowlsby of the Big 12 have made similar public comments in recent weeks, circling late July as a juncture for their scheduling decisions.
Conference-only schedules are seen as a method for limiting long-distance travel for games and allowing for greater in-season scheduling flexibility in case of outbreaks of COVID-19.
Weekly conference calls are held among the commissioners of the 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences to discuss the myriad issues related to trying to stage a season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Steinbrecher, the MAC commissioner, said he hoped there would be "collaboration" in their decisions.
"There's a fair amount of communication going on right now," he said, "and I hope as we go forward that we figure out ways to move together on major issues. I think that would be important for the subdivision.
"It takes a lot of work, and we all recognize that we have individual units. But at the same time, we're all linked together through the College Football Playoff, so we have obligations to each other and obligations to that entity that we'll need to make sure we work together on."
If the remaining major conferences follow the Big Ten and Pac-12 in moving toward conference-only schedules, the MAC will be prompted to reorganize its teams’ schedules.
Going to its own conference-only schedule would be one consideration.
"We've talked about an array of different entities," Steinbrecher said, "but if you have a whole bunch of people who pull their games off the board, you have to look at what you’re left with. So we'll see. I wouldn't want to prejudge anything. As information becomes available, we'll continue to reevaluate."