Category Archives: It’s Just Bidness

Bob Bowlsby, champion of the little guy

The Big 12 Commissioner, we are told, “came to the defense of the collegiate model” at Big 12 media days Monday.  It was a touching performance.

… He argued against the unionization of college athletes, noting that in his opinion, “student-athletes are not employees.” He also said it wouldn’t be fair to pay football players but not female student-athletes and student-athletes in sports other than football and men’s basketball.

“It is hard to justify paying student-athletes in football and men’s basketball and not recognizing the significant effort that swimmers and wrestlers and lacrosse players and track athletes all put in,” he said. “Football and basketball players don’t work any harder than anybody else; they just happen to have the blessing of an adoring public who is willing to pay for the tickets and willing to buy the products on television that come with the high visibility.

“We have both a legal obligation and a moral obligation to do for female student-athletes and male Olympic sports athletes just exactly what we do for football and basketball student-athletes. I don’t think it’s even debatable.”

Touching, but totally divorced from economic reality. Those lucky duck football and basketball players simply fortunate enough to be blessed with the scarce skills that the market place demands, why should they be rewarded for that? If everyone in this world were paid according to effort, I doubt Bob himself would be pulling in the big bucks he’s getting paid right now… speaking of which, exactly how far do those legal and moral obligations stretch?

About as far as you’d think.

“In the end,” he said, “it’s a somewhat zero-sum game. There’s only so much money out there. I don’t think that coaches and athletic directors are likely going to take pay cuts.[Emphasis added.] I think that train’s left the station. … I think over a period of time what we’ll find is that instead of keeping a tennis program, they’re going to do the things that it takes to keep the football and men’s and women’s basketball programs strong.”

Obligations are for the little guy – straight out of the 21st-century captains of industry playbook.  There’s your collegiate model.  And remember, Bowlsby doesn’t think this is even debatable.  No wonder he expects to be in court the rest of his career.

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Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness

It’s not really player compensation if it keeps him playing for us.

Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M’s extremely talented offensive tackle, could have gone pro, but elected to come back to school for his senior year.  One reason for that is TAMU agreed to throw upwards of sixty grand into the pot to cover the premium for a loss-of-value insurance policy.

Now, while I find that admirable, I also think it’s pretty obvious that’s nothing the school is going to do every day.  For one thing, the source of funds is limited.

Texas A&M, though, had researched a newer NCAA rule that offered them some flexibility, where the school itself could actually pay the difference out of the Student Assistance Fund, which each school has at its disposal to cover things such as the cost of post-eligibility financial aid, or if a student-athlete can’t afford to travel home in cases of emergency, or if they need a suit to wear to university functions or events like SEC Media Days.

It’s not an unlimited pool, and the NCAA creates its yearly limit for all schools so each has to budget where its money goes for that year. According to the SEC office, last year each of its members allotted $350,000 for the fund.

For another, and more obviously, it’s only the top-notch talent that justifies such an outlay.  (And if you do the math, that’s some outlay – almost 20% of the fund.)

But here’s what I find interesting to consider.  All that talk we heard during the debate about how allowing players to benefit from the market value of their names and likenesses would be bad for team cohesion because some would fetch greater compensation for those than others – how does TAMU stepping in for Ogbuehi like that pose any less of a problem for team unity?  I’m guessing that Coach Sumlin, A&M O-line coach B.J. Anderson, Aggie associate AD for football Justin Moore and veteran director of football operations Gary Reynolds, all of whom visited Ogbuehi and his family to make the insurance pitch, aren’t particularly concerned.

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“The playoff wasn’t done for the money, it was done for the fans.”

Bill Hancock is so full of shit.

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Filed under BCS/Playoffs, It's Just Bidness

Georgia Tech embraces the new paradigm.

Tech’s getting a nice bump in TV money.

The distribution from the ACC increased by 32 percent, from $17.9 million to $23.6 million. The distribution largely comes from ESPN, and the boost is a result of the ACC’s renegotiated contract with the network after the addition of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the grant of rights and the upcoming college football playoff. (According to the budget notes, the playoff agreement is worth $3 million in new revenue and the additions to the ACC were worth $2.5 in additional revenue.)

Which is a good thing, because ticket revenues are heading in the wrong direction.

Ticket sales revenue, while budgeted conservatively, is projected to drop from $11.6 million to $9.8 million. It’s the second-largest source of revenues after the ACC distribution. A projected slight drop in season ticket sales, six home games (as opposed to seven) and the even-year schedule without a home game against Georgia are primary factors.

Four tickets, four hot dogs and four cokes can only take an athletic department so far.

And this doesn’t help things on the buyout front, either:

The reserve fund, from which money can be taken in case of budget shortfalls, is at about $2.5 million. The goal for the fund is to be at least $5 million. The department had to draw on the reserve fund in the 2013 fiscal year due to a $1.8 million shortfall, largely due to expenses related to the ACC football championship game and the ensuing trip to the Sun Bowl.

Greg McGarity is laughing at the superior intellect.

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Filed under Georgia Tech Football, It's Just Bidness

The status quo cuts both ways.

A suggestion I’ve seen repeatedly offered as a way out of the NCAA’s amateurism trap is the European soccer model.  And this does sound appealing:

Players enter the Ajax academy when they are as young as seven, and train to become professional players. Though private tutors provide a secondary education, Ajax and other European clubs make no pretensions about the arrangement: they are training soccer players, not “student athletes.” After school, the worst players get cut and return to civilian life, the better players star professionally for Ajax, and the best players are “sold” when another team purchases their contract for an often exorbitant fee. Why so much cash? A fully developed star is a rare commodity, and big money teams like Manchester City are willing to be exorbitant fees to acquire one. Last summer, Spanish super club Real Madrid paid London’s Tottenham Hotspur a reported $132 million to acquire Welsh star Gareth Bale. The Dutch model (buy low, sell high!) has been copied across Europe. In recent years, the sale of five Ajax players netted the team $80 million in transfer fees as bigger teams purchased Ajax’s premier talent.

So what would a European-style development system look like in American sports? Imagine if the Cleveland Browns had to pay the Texas A&M directly for the rights to Johnny “Football” Manziel. Want LeBron James? Let’s start the bidding at $50 million. The days of the draft, the annual pro sports meat market where scouts drool over college prospects, would be over.

Money.  Yum.  Manna from heaven if you’re the school that won the lottery with a stud player.  (And, sure, you could tweak the system to make it more academically palatable.)

But there’s an obvious catch with this arrangement.

Big teams in big markets would pay top dollar and get the best players, and the relative parity that characterizes many American sports leagues would vanish. In such a competitive economic environment, professional teams would be incentivized to develop their own players; big-time college sports, long cloaked in a veneer of amateurism, could become a distant memory.

That’s what happened to baseball’s minor leagues in the first half of the 20th century.  Major league owners got tired of shelling out major bucks for stars developed by independent minor league teams, so people like Branch Rickey took the obvious step by co-opting the minors with their own controlled farm systems.  And that was the end of meaningful, independent minor league baseball.

Now, you can look at this as the author does and see it as a welcome, if radical development that might be necessary to save colleges from themselves, but I question whether coaches, athletic directors and presidents at schools with powerhouse athletics departments would share your point of view.  Does anyone think that Alabama’s current business model survives intact if Nick Saban is coaching kids who would have been at best lower-tier Sun Belt players?  I doubt Saban does.

Any sort of successor protocol to the NCAA’s amateurism model is going to have to be one that continues to allow the five-star studs to pass through the Alabamas of the college athletics world.  Put it this way – notice how articles like this never make an effort to get the players’ point of view?  Coaches want the talent, even if it’s for a limited amount of time.

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Filed under It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

Fever dreams

Now I enjoy an anti-NCAA rant as much as anyone, and this one certainly has its moments of rhetorical pleasure – “the fevered delusions of NCAA chief Mark Emmert, who swore under oath that what he presides over is as amateur as tiddlywinks on a playground” has a nice ring to it, no doubt – but the idea that Jim Delany, a man who just added two teams to his conference for the sole purpose of making its broadcast network a more attractive proposition, would be prepared one day to blow up the entire structure of college athletics and return to a simpler, purer arrangement is a fevered delusion of its own.

Money is the drug and they’re hooked on it.

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Filed under It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

Sunday morning buffet

Have some football.

  • Herschel Walker thinks the college football playoff format should be bigger than four teams to accommodate the SEC.
  • I heard a lot of talk from some of the NCAA’s witnesses at O’Bannon that paying players could harm the integration between them and the rest of the student body.  I wonder how they feel about this.
  • The arrests of seven athletes over a three-month span at Missouri led the athletic director to the conclusion that he doesn’t believe the spate of arrests was indicative of a cultural problem.  Isn’t that what they always think?
  • More academic speculation on what the Northwestern unionization effort might lead to.  Nobody knows, really.
  • Statistical comfort for Auburn:  Allowing big passing numbers is no indicator of a team’s success.  Except when it is:  “Four of the top five teams in the country in passing yardage — Florida State, Florida Atlantic, Michigan State and Louisville — held the top four spots in opponents’ passer rating, and they were the only four teams to hold teams under a 100 rating.”
  • If you’re interested in some inside ball, Shakin the Southland, which has been an excellent Clemson blog, has lost two of its major contributors.  Their story is here.
  • Auburn wants to do something about limiting opponents’ explosive plays, although if the problem really goes back to Tuberville’s time, I’m not sure why that really matters now.

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Filed under Auburn's Cast of Thousands, BCS/Playoffs, Crime and Punishment, It's Just Bidness, Look For The Union Label, Stats Geek!, The Blogosphere

Don’t get John McCain started on college sports.

I’ve mentioned before that the NCAA’s long-term strategy of seeking redress in Congress if the courts don’t go its way on amateurism may not be that easy a path, because there may not be the groundswell of support the schools and conferences expect there (except for Republican knee-jerk opposition to unions, of course).

John McCain is an example of what I’m referring to.

“I worry a little bit about some of the professionalism that is in college football particularly,” McCain said.

He mentioned the effort to form a union among collegiate athletes, while mistakenly referring to the Northwestern case by saying it involved the University of Illinois.

“Obviously some legal experts told them they had something they might be able to succeed in court and yet I worry about the competitiveness of some of the smaller schools and their ability to attract athletes the caliber that we now see at the highest level,” McCain said. “I also worry when you and I can probably predict the top four college football teams in the country before the season starts. There is a certain, shall I say, advantage, that some schools have over the rest of them.”

A former wrestler at the Naval Academy, McCain said he’s nostalgic for the days of the service academies’ dominance.

“And the role that you play, in my view, is to blow the whistle on the egregious aspects of it. Is it really an amateur sport when the coach makes about $10 million when you count everything? Let’s just call it what it is.”

It’s a rambling response, but it seems to take note of the fiction of competitive balance that the NCAA is hanging its amateurism hat on.  Of course, I can see the NCAA agreeing with his last point and noting that with the right kind of antitrust exemption, schools could restrict Nick Saban’s salary as well.  Something for everybody!

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Filed under It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery

Head coach job opening? Expect to hear Kyle Flood’s name dropped.

‘Cause Jimmy Sexton is on the mother.

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Playing the long game

As yesterday’s statement from the Big Ten indicates, I think it’s slowly dawning on college presidents that O’Bannon is turning into a losing proposition for them.  Now even if they lose the trial, the walls don’t start falling down around their ears immediately.  There’s an appeal process that they’ll likely milk for all it’s worth if for no other reason than that every day the inevitable is postponed is another day they don’t have to share the loot with anyone else.  But that won’t last forever.  Plus, there’s the concerns raised by the unionization effort at Northwestern and other litigation threats.  All it takes is losing once.

At some point, then, it’ll be time to turn to the last refuge – politics.  And don’t think that’s not already on their minds.

Did the reform movement arrive too late? Delany doesn’t think so. “Are you kidding me? This will be with us for a decade,” he said. “Between the reform, the restructuring, the litigation, congressional activity. This is the beginning. Not the end.”

A sentiment echoed by one of his bosses:

“A lot of water has got to go under the bridge before we’d have serious conversations about doing that,” Kaler said. “There’s a whole long list of possibilities that are out there. … A lot of people think this will go to the Supreme Court and maybe even Congress. There’s a lot of water to move.”

These guys, as much as they may protest to the contrary, ain’t going the Division III route.  There’s simply too much money involved for them to walk away from it.  They will run to the feds instead, to try to hold on to what they’ve got.  And, yes, the irony of Jim Delany asking people like Joe Barton and Orrin Hatch for assistance isn’t lost on me.  (And probably won’t be lost on them, either.)

Here’s the thing, though – who’s to say they’re any good at lobbying?  Delany can be Delany when it comes to bullying mid-major conferences who want him to throw them a bone, but how does that work when he’s the one who comes asking for a favor?  Will the presidents he speaks for be willing to do any serious horse trading for an antitrust exemption, or will they continue to operate with the same combination of arrogance and myopia that’s gotten them into the mess they’re trying to extricate themselves from?

And, maybe more importantly, should they even assume Congress is of a mind to help?

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Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness, Political Wankery