John Infante looks at where the Big Ten is on the NCAA’s push to deregulate recruiting and finds that the problem for that conference is that the SEC is more of a lean, mean footballin’ machine.
So while the SEC as a whole has more revenue and spends more on football, it potentially has more resources to redirect to football. Fewer teams means less overhead. Direct costs can be cut with roster restrictions, more regional and local scheduling, or straight budget cuts. Each new dollar that comes in has fewer mouths to feed. When the conference expands, the Big Ten has to divert more resources toward more nonrevenue sports for travel.
The problem is not that the Big Ten is already being outspent by the SEC, because at the top of the conference that is not true. The bigger issue for the Big Ten is that it already spends more on football but cannot overturn the other advantages the SEC has in terms of prestige, recruiting hotbeds, and attracting top coaches. And if schools are all of the sudden able to spend more on football, Big Ten schools appear less able to do so than SEC schools. Any increased revenue will potentially be fought over by more sports in the Big Ten.
Infante thinks this means that Delany’s comments about reclassifying the Big Ten to a DIII conference are more threat than bluff, because its schools are already structured more like schools on that level. That begs two questions, though.
Infante raises one himself:
In that future, the Big Ten is philosophically closer to Division III or the Ivy League than it is to the SEC. To catch-up to the SEC, it would need to disband teams wholesale. A whole conference closing up teams in the way Maryland and Cal originally did over the last few years is a very tough sell. Then again, so is dropping between one and three levels of football and basketball competition. The real question would be just how much the Big Ten values competing against like-minded schools. [Emphasis added.]
Yeah, that Ohio State home opener against Kenyon College doesn’t have quite the panache that, say, Texas would bring to the table. This isn’t a cliff Jim Delany’s jumping off unless he’s holding hands with a fellow major conference commissioner or two – and that’s going to be a helluva sales job for a man who prefers the bully pulpit to sweet talk.
But here’s the second thing. There’s no mandate requiring a formula about how Big Ten schools, or any other schools, have to spend money on their athletics. All of them make choices, both on the micro level of allocating the departments’ revenues on various programs and on the macro level as each decides how much support all of their sports deserve.
On the first level, Dan Wetzel gets to the weakness of Delany’s position:
Within the huge budgets of a major university, athletic revenue remains a drop in the bucket. Delany’s assertion that football and men’s basketball must support non-revenue sports – rather than, say, the history department or the dorm heating bill – is an attempt to make a moral claim on what is really an accounting and control issue. He is protecting athletic fiefdoms, where ADs dole out every penny, from funding decisions being made with a campus-wide view.
But, still, some might say, that’s a school’s choice. Why should that choice be taken away with the imposition of an economic model that Delany warns would lay waste to the financial status quo?
The answer to that is athletic budgets don’t operate in a closed universe.
The University of Michigan, for instance, is a Big Ten member with an endowment of about $8 billion. If it wants a field hockey team, it can most certainly afford one. Cutting football players past and present in on some of the tens of millions that program generates or allowing them to profit off their own likeness or to put a percentage of jersey sales into a trust fund, isn’t going to bankrupt the school. And if Title IX can’t be reworked (and it almost assuredly can), then Michigan would do just that to comply with federal law.
What Delany is saying is that left to its own decision, Michigan won’t see field hockey as worth the money. He’s acknowledging that outside the myopic prism of the athletic department, gold-plated, non-revenue sports don’t make much sense.
Right now Michigan athletics gets 100 percent of the revenue and things roll on. If the players get a cut, then it will have to “reduce opportunities for student-athletes overall.”
So it’s the players’ share of the revenue – the money the O’Bannon case is trying to divert – that is propping up the other sports … the same other sports that Delany doesn’t believe the university itself considers a sound investment.
And that’s really it – Big Ten schools want to have the programs; they just don’t want to pay for the programs with their own moneys. And that gets to the heart of what’s being fought over in O’Bannon. As Wetzel puts it, “if Michigan doesn’t think it should pay for a field hockey team, then why does it think Denard Robinson should?”
Now that’s a question I’d love to hear Delany answer.