Category Archives: College Football

Eh, championship, shampionship…

So, having read this debate at ESPN about the ACC’s plans for its conference championship game (aka The World’s Smallest Outdoor Cocktail Party – h/t Jim Donnan) and keeping in mind Todd Graham’s whine about the fairness of the Pac-12 choosing to play a championship game while the 10-team Big 12 doesn’t, I’ve got a few questions.

  1. As Todd Fortuna asks, “…why does the NCAA even have authority to determine how leagues govern their title games, anyway? As we’ve seen recently, particularly with the SEC sticking with its eight-game league slate, conferences are free to determine their respective league schedules however they wish. It’s only right that they get to choose how to determine their league champion, too.”  I get that adding a game needs the NCAA’s approval, but as to the makeup of who plays, why is the NCAA involved?
  2. That being said, what is the point to maintaining divisions for the regular season if they’re going to be ignored come championship time?  I mean, aside from money.  As David Hale points out, in the ACC, all that’s going to do is make the Clemson-FSU regular season meeting less meaningful, if those two are your ACC front-runners.  And further, “… after FSU completely dominated Clemson this past season, was there really a need for those two to face off again? And if Clemson managed to sneak by the Seminoles in the title game by a point or two, would that have proven the Tigers deserved the league title instead of FSU? And would it have been worth costing the ACC its shot at a national title?”
  3. As silly as that seems, it’s not nearly as ridiculous as a conference with a round robin regular season schedule adding a championship game.  But if college football heads down that road to appease the Todd Grahams of the CFB world, why stop there?  Wouldn’t the truly fair thing be to mandate that only conferences with fourteen members and a championship game be eligible for the national title postseason?

Now I’m not suggesting that I’m on board for any of this.  It’s just surprising to me, at least a little, that we’re hearing talk, some of it serious, about tinkering with Roy Kramer’s invention, one that’s served the sport pretty damned well for more than a couple of decades.  The reason for that, of course, is the birth of the four-team national playoff and the power conferences gaming out the best scenario to maximize their prospects in that.  That most of the decision makers don’t have a clue what might work best doesn’t mean they won’t try.  You tell me how optimistic we should be about that working out well.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

Friday morning buffet

You should eat.

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Filed under Big 12 Football, College Football, Georgia Football, James Franklin Is Ready To Rumble, Science Marches Onward, SEC Football, The Blogosphere, The NCAA, What's Bet In Vegas Stays In Vegas

Food fight!

Honestly, I don’t know whether to be depressed or amused by this.

Three hours of the Big 12′s spring meetings in Phoenix this week were spent talking about food.

Yes, food.

Since everything else with the NCAA is cumbersome, you didn’t think the “unlimited” meals plan passed last month would be easy, right? Athletic directors are supportive of the reform, but some wonder if the plan needs guidance.

“If not better defined this is far bigger than bagels, nutrition bars or smoothies,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “It leaves the interpretation open to all kinds of abuse.”

One thing I’m not is surprised. This is what you get when you have a perverted economy – you can’t compensate players directly, so the money flows to peripheral areas to attract talent.

Another safe bet: Costs will be significant, which means another inherent arms race could be on the way.

Kansas State’s John Currie outlined his enhanced meal plan that will likely cost between $600,000 and $1 million annually.

And it doesn’t even sound that extreme – snacks in the training room, post-workout shakes, 3-to-4-hour dining availability six days a week, access to food service after workouts, in addition to meal stipends or nightly dining hall already available.

There’s no fixed cost with this, so in theory Texas or Alabama or Oregon can spend $5 million if they choose.

If?  Okay, now I am amused.

They’re on the verge of bringing Willie Williams’ wet dream to reality.

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Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness

What’s better than a Congressional hearing on college football players?

Why, two hearings, of course.

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Filed under College Football, Political Wankery

Jim Delany’s Pandora’s Box

Now we’re getting to the real nitty-gritty.

… We understand there are a lot of schools that want to be Division I. Some of them are reliant on branding in Division I, revenues from the Division I tournament. That was never our objective. Our objective was to create a system of governance we could use to serve our athletes. In the 21st century, it’s painfully obvious we need to change. It’s painfully obvious it’s not all a level playing field, and that a lot of the level-playing field philosophy is under attack. I would rather have us change it than have it not change or change for us.  [Emphasis added.]

Yes, Delany quickly follows that up with “I understand some people think pay for play is right. I do not think pay for play is right. I do not think unions are the answer”, but, seriously, once you’re honest about the reality that the myth of competitive balance is just that and you announce you’re willing to abandon the pretense once and for all, what’s left to justify clinging to the myth of amateurism?

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Filed under College Football, The NCAA

“The narrative will be set.”

This is the best thing you’ll read about every stupid “ridiculously early” list ever compiled.  The conclusion:

Because the answer never changes, and neither do the lists. Here’s Mark Schlabach’s Way-Too-Early list from February of 2013. 20 of the same 25 teams from 2013 are on it this time. Including Florida, ranked seventh. Florida went 4-8 last season. That alone is probably enough to exclude them from any current Top 25 list, but I’d allow it if the evidence was a little stronger than “they just can’t keep being that bad.”

But it isn’t.

Amen to that, brother.

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Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil, Media Punditry/Foibles

Making do with less

Something crossed my mind as I read this Jeremy Fowler piece on how the mid-majors will cope with the looming issue of more autonomy for the power conferences.  How much of a game changer could Jeffery Kessler’s antitrust suit be if he won, not for student-athletes, but for mid-major schools?

No, if the Wild West comes to college athletics, Boise State isn’t suddenly going to have as much money to spend as Ohio State.  But it doesn’t have the enormously expensive infrastructure Ohio State maintains, either.  So what if the more nimble Broncos did a little outside-the-box thinking and decided to put most of their resources into player payment?  Might that not serve to level the playing field somewhat?

I get that there are some places, like Alabama and Texas, that simply wouldn’t allow themselves to be outspent, and that there are schools at the other end of the spectrum that simply don’t have enough coming in to make a meaningful effort in that way.  But that still leaves a lot of programs in the middle.  You’d have to think there are enough talented kids out there who would prefer the cash being paid directly to them than being put into facilities or administrative salaries whom a smartly run program could sign in an open market that it could make some mid-major schools, or even bottom feeders in the bigger conferences, more competitive.  (Especially since you’d have to figure there would be a bunch of ADs out there ill-equipped to operate in such a world.)

Anybody think that might work?

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Filed under College Football, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, It's Just Bidness

Reclaiming New Year’s Day

The only downside to the expansion of bowl games is schedule clutter.  I know it’s part of the branding, but I still welcome college football clearing out some of the underbrush on December 31st/January 1st.

In each of the past seven years, there have been 10 to 12 bowls played on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. However, this season there will be only eight — with five of those games played in exclusive time slots.

The only bowls played on Dec. 31 will be part of the playoff’s six New Year’s-specific bowls. The Peach will have the early kickoff, followed by the Fiesta and then the Orange. Exact game times have not been determined.

On Jan. 1, the Outback and Capital One bowls are expected to start between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET, sources said. It’s expected the Outback will be on ESPN2 and Capital One on ABC. Both games will go head-to-head with the Cotton Bowl on ESPN.

The playoff semifinal bowls are the Rose and Sugar. The Rose will start about 5 p.m. ET, followed by the Sugar.

That suits me.  I like the big bowls having the stage to themselves on New Year’s… at least as long as there aren’t any five-touchdown blowouts.

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Filed under College Football

Life with the haves

If you’re a top-tier football program, you’ve probably been doing alright lately.  Better than most of us, actually.

The economic downturn that started about six years ago flattened wages and crushed jobs. But sports programs at the nation’s top public colleges have thrived: Revenues continue to reach record levels while payrolls have risen on average about 40 percent.

Total revenue from the nation’s top-tier college sports programs — the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision — has increased by about a third, fueled by ticket sales, donations and lucrative television contracts that together resulted in about $8 billion.

You’ve also done a pretty good job massaging the numbers.

Operating revenue listed by athletic departments includes what’s often referred to as a subsidy — money the university (including student fees) or a state government provides to an athletic department to help it cover its expenses. But even if those dollars are removed, which is possible for public schools that disclose that information, the percentage increase in “earned revenue” is still about the same.

In 2012-13, 20 public schools showed a surplus of earned revenue, a number that hasn’t changed much over the past few years. The NCAA puts the figure at 23, which likely includes a few private schools whose data the NCAA has access to but doesn’t release publicly. For six schools — Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and Oregon — the surplus was in excess of $15 million.

Ohio State showed a surplus of almost $24 million, but that does not factor in $16.6 million in debt service that the department is paying on bonds issued to fund renovations at Ohio Stadium and to build a new aquatics center, along with some smaller building projects, said associate athletics director for finance Pete Hagan. Hagan said not including debt service was an oversight that should have been included in the expense figures submitted to the NCAA. He said that his department plans to address the oversight.

Hagan said the NCAA, U.S. Department of Education and university require unique financial reports, and the bottom lines are never the same, making it difficult to see how much money is really left over.

Sports economists say the actual number of schools with a surplus is probably far higher, as they point to several ways athletic departments can pad expenses to hide extra revenue.

Goff said schools have long been trying to keep their actual bottom line “under wraps.” “If there’s going to be a surplus, you find some expense to put that into often before the surplus even appears,” he said.

And that’s where it gets fun.  Really fun.

  • In 2012-13, Auburn spent $2.8 million on recruiting, more than any other school.
  • Tennessee spent the most on severance pay in 2012-13 at $8 million. In 2012, when the college fired football coach Derek Dooley, he was paid a severance of $5 million and his assistants up to $4 million overall. A payout of $1.3 million went to former athletic director Mike Hamilton, who resigned in 2011, adding to the department’s $19 million total over the past six years. (One that should ease up this year because those deals have all been accounted for, Stanton said.) Second to Tennessee over that time was Kansas, at $14.4 million, which agreed to a $3 million severance with former coach Mark Mangino in 2009.
  • At public FBS schools overall, spending on coaching salaries increased on average by 45 percent.
  • Travel costs increased about 8 percent from 2012 to 2013 for public schools.
  • For 2012-13, four public schools spent more than $1 million on their spirit squads — Georgia, Florida, Texas and Michigan.  (For perspective, note that Texas, at $1.9 million, spent the most money on medical care for student-athletes last year.)

Why do they do it?  Well, basically, because they can.

Goff and other economists say it’s not nefarious, but it’s a practice common to nonprofit organizations and government entities: Spend as close as you can to what you bring in every year, because there’s no incentive to show a profit.

Chad McEvoy, a professor and graduate program director with the Department of Sport Management at Syracuse University, said, “it’s definitely interesting accounting.”

“We’ve definitely seen growth in salaries and personnel, but I think a lot of that is by choice,” he said. “I think these athletic programs have added staff both on the sports side and the administrative side because they have the money to spend and needed to spend it on something.”

He points to a volleyball coach making $300,000 a year for a program that draws only a few hundred fans who pay $5 or $10 a ticket. “The market rate or the math doesn’t add up,” he said.

Even travel costs, which are legitimately going up due to rising fuel prices and the need to play schools farther away due to conference realignments, can be pushed up by traveling more luxuriously and staying in higher-end hotels, McEvoy said.

Ohio State’s Hagan, who has worked in athletic department finance since the early ’80s, said he doesn’t believe there’s a general incentive to spend more so as not to show a surplus — or too much of a surplus. But he said athletic departments are in a highly competitive environment, an “arms race” as he described it, in which they’re driven to be bigger and better to attract top recruits and faculty: “We could spend every cent that we make and then some trying to just keep up with renovating our stadiums and improving our facilities and practice fields.”

And this is why you have to laugh when you hear the Emmerts and Delanys cluck about student-athlete compensation and competitive fairness.  When Georgia spends as much on its spirit squads as Troy has for its entire travel budget, that ain’t no level playing field.  And the big boys aren’t interested in making it one.

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Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness

“We have to show we do get better coverage to justify that extra cost of an official.”

On one side, SEC officiating coordinator Steve Shaw lays out the case for an eighth official in the era of the HUNH:

“People think we’re putting the eighth official in so we can go even faster (given the ongoing debate about up-tempo offenses),” Shaw said. “That absolutely is not the case. The expectation is the pace of the game, whether it’s seven or eight, will be very consistent across the board.”

Shaw said the SEC’s experiment is based on football’s changing complexities due to spread offenses. That’s a point echoed by other conference officiating coordinators. Football has become a numbers game — more teams throw the ball and more receivers run patterns –and officials are struggling to keep up.

Consider the math on a play if five offensive players go out for a pass. There are three officials positioned deep and two on the sideline. So five receivers (and potentially five to six defensive backs) are occupying five officials.

That leaves two officials — the referee and umpire — for the whole area around the pocket and line of scrimmage that involves eight to 11 players. Many officiating coordinators say the numbers don’t add up, especially given the emphasis on player safety, such as watching for personal foul hits on the quarterback.

“That’s a tall order,” Shaw said of two officials watching the balance of the players. “The early views are this eighth official helps us spotting the ball and managing the substitution process, but it’s also an extra pair of eyes to officiate.”

Shaw said the hope is the center judge can free the umpire from handling substitutions and allow him to better make his pre-snap reads. (Yes, officials are taught to read keys, too, just like defensive players.)

Makes a helluva lot of sense, no?  What could be so compelling as to keep some conferences, like Larry “ideally, we would all run the race on a similar course” Scott’s Pac-12 from entertaining the notion entirely and even keep the SEC from doing nothing more this season than a toe in the water experiment with only one eight-man crew a week?  C’mon, do you really have to guess?

One concern for conferences could be the economics of paying more officials. Schools and conferences will have to determine if the eighth official provides enough value to invest money into it as opposed to other officiating areas.

In case you’re wondering, SEC football officials are typically paid between $800 and $2,200 per game.

If the football gods have a sense of humor, this season they’ll arrange a blown call by a seven-man crew that wouldn’t have occurred with the eighth ref in a SEC game that costs a conference team a spot in the playoff.

16 Comments

Filed under College Football