Daily Archives: April 6, 2011

The two faces of grayshirting

Two conference spokesmen speaking on the same topic reveal differing motivations:

“I think if you look at it you have to recognize that there is a competitive advantage issue there,” said Big Ten associate commissioner Chad Hawley. “It’s just logical to think that if we’re playing five-card stud and I get five cards, and you get dealt eight cards, you’re going to be in a better position. I think that’s a pretty decent analogy. We haven’t focused on the competitive impact and, frankly, we’ve been pleased that this issue has picked up speed as a topic of conversation nationally.”

“We haven’t focused on the competitive impact”, except for all those times when they have.  Like in that quote.

Compare and contrast that with this statement:

… The SEC’s Sankey admits that the practice of grayshirting by some of his member schools is “not appropriate” and says the SEC is considering adopting stricter measures on how recruits are counted.

“This year, we saw a couple circumstances where there was really late notice to student-athletes about programs’ desire for them to defer enrollment,” Sankey said. “Those circumstances are not appropriate. We don’t want to see that type of thing happen.

“Part of the discussion is, ‘Is there a way to manage grayshirting that should be out in front of folks?’ In a similar way, should we be managing early-enrollment issues in a different way? All of those things mix into this discussion and that’s why it takes some time to do some analysis to figure out some reasonable solution for our conference. We’ve been after this issue since the fall and we have an annual meeting in late May and early June, and I’d expect some potential solutions would be considered.”

(h/t Oversigning.com)

20 Comments

Filed under Big Ten Football, Recruiting, SEC Football

When liberals collide: is there a case for paying student-athletes?

Jonathan Chait can’t figure out how Matthew Yglesias’ argument for paying college athletes makes sense.

… I’ve never been clear on exactly what Yglesias is proposing. Is he saying that only athletes in revenue-generating sports should be paid? Or is he saying that all college athletes should be paid? If it’s the latter — and Yglesias focuses his argument entirely on the merits of paying student-athletes at revenue-generating sports — I don’t know what his reason is. The women’s cross country team at Connecticut works just as hard as the men’s basketball team. The difference between the two are:

1) The men’s basketball team gets to play on television and be famous

2) The proceeds from the television contract subsidize sports like women’s cross country, and

3) The men’s basketball players have a higher chance to become professional athletes

I’m not sure what about this situation suggests that the men’s basketball players deserve to be paid by UConn but the women’s cross country runners don’t. So who would get paid here? All college athletes?

Here’s the thing… well, actually two things.  First, with regard to compensation for all, Chait’s “works just as hard” point is irrelevant.  If our society valued hard work regardless of the context, every coal miner in West Virginia would make more money than Paris Hilton.  They don’t, obviously.  It’s tautological, but we value the revenue producing sports for what they are, not for how hard the kids work.

But he’s on firmer ground when he rips Yglesias for not recognizing that, whatever its warts, there are some unique characteristics about college athletics that don’t make the case for paying players a (forgive me)  slam dunk.

… First of all, there’s no “mandatory amateurism.” There’s nothing stopping anybody from starting a football or basketball minor league that attracts talented 18 year olds, paying its players, and then having some of those players go on to make greater sums in the NFL or the NBA. Why doesn’t such a league exist? Because there’s no demand for it. You have the NBA developmental league, but that league is subsidized by the pros. This suggests Yglesias’s exploitation model is pretty seriously flawed. During the beginning of the NCAA tournament, he wrote, “Professional basketball players are way better at basketball. Just saying.”

He’s right. And yet college basketball is highly popular. Why is that? Perhaps it’s because people like watching games between college students, even if they understand that some of those students are just looking for  a pathway to professional basketball. They do not like watching an NBA training league. Now, everybody understands that the reality often falls short of the ideal. I’m very much in favor of reforms like ending freshman eligibility and so on. Yglesias seems far more interested in destroying college athletics than in thinking about what to change it into, or whether that thing could even survive.

A second, and more persistent, flaw in Yglesias’s critique is the problem of profit. He’s been making this argument for years, and he never deals with the absence of profit. A movie studio forming a cartel to underpay its workforce and thus enjoy greater profits is different than a university that does not have any profit. Yglesias might have some explanation for why this difference doesn’t matter, but to ignore it altogether is not really a persuasive approach.

To some extent, college athletics as a business model has been warped as a result of the free ride the NBA and the NFL gets on its back.  But another problem is that colleges and their athletic departments aren’t operated like traditional for-profit businesses.  The combination of the two has led to a tension that’s illustrated in the NCAA’s flailing about in defending its amateurism standard.  The problem is that before we can decide if there’s a happy medium in there somewhere, as Chait hopes, it would help to find some people who have a clue about how to get to that point.  I can’t say there’s anything in Mark Emmert’s track record that gives me much cause for optimism there for now.

38 Comments

Filed under College Football, It's Just Bidness, The NCAA

Growing the playoff

Year2 explains why the college basketball postseason model isn’t ideal for D-1 football.

… Football goes by a principle of scarcity. It is the only sport that truly does, and it has no choice given the brutality of it. College football in particular works this way, given that it has the shortest regular season and postseason tournament of the major American sports. Yes, you read that right. College football has a tournament; it’s just a two-team tournament.

College basketball works on a principle of abundance. The marginal value of any one regular season game, rivalries and the like aside, is much lower than the value of a college football regular season game. The sport makes up for that lower value in volume.

The trick is knowing whether you are operating from scarcity or abundance and playing to the strength of the format. If you’re going to mix the two, you want to have abundance in the regular season and scarcity in the postseason. The last thing you want is scarcity in the regular season and abundance in the postseason tournament, because it drops the value of the regular season games considerably.

Now I want to believe he’s on to something there, but then he goes on with this:

… That’s the main, and supremely valid, concern of those who are against expanding college football’s tournament beyond two teams. Can you do it without sacrificing scarcity?

Of course you can. Opening it up to a four-team playoff does the trick, and I could be persuaded to go up to about 10 teams like with Matt Hinton’s playoff plan. I would absolutely be against a 16-team monstrosity involving the champions of all 11 conferences. The trick is making sure that playoff creep doesn’t happen and expand the field too far, but if you can keep a playoff at two teams indefinitely, you can keep it at whatever number you want indefinitely.

And that’s where he loses me.  The reason D-1 football’s playoff has been locked in as it has at two is because the Delanys and Slives of the college football world are terrified about what might happen to the cash flow they control from the regular season in the wake of an expanded postseason.  Now I happen to agree with Year2 that a plus one format of some sort isn’t likely to threaten that, but I admit that’s an easy concession to make from someone who isn’t responsible for keeping the money flowing.

However, I don’t think the tipping point is nearly as far out as he believes it is.  Any postseason format which combines automatic berths for conference champs with entry based on subjective rankings opens itself up to regular complaints about deserving teams (or deserving conferences) being passed over with the inevitable pressure to expand to accommodate the whiners.

It’s worth remembering two things here.  First, despite the scarcity talk, don’t forget that D-1 football is the outlier here.  It’s the only game in town without a large playoff.  (College football’s lower divisions all have them.)  Not coincidently, D-1 football also happens to be the only game in town which hasn’t expanded its playoff.

Second, if you look at how the college basketball tourney has expanded, the pressure hasn’t come from the mid-majors.  It’s come from the big conferences which push for ways to get more of their members in the postseason.  That’s how you get eleven schools from Jim Boeheim’s conference playing in March.

I’m not smart enough to know exactly where the tipping point is.  But I am smart enough to appreciate that the same ruthless bastards who run college football are also the ones who have pushed the basketball tourney’s growth.  If they’re resistant to an enlarged D-1 football playoff, what does that tell you?

13 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

The NCAA, making the rules up as they go along

C’mon, who are they kidding here?

The Fiesta Bowl will meet April 28 in New Orleans with an NCAA subcommittee that will determine whether the bowl keeps its operating license, an NCAA official said Tuesday.

Dennis Poppe, NCAA vice president of baseball and football, said the Fiesta Bowl has been invited to meet with the 11-member group that licenses college football bowl games.

Options facing the committee include allowing the Fiesta Bowl to keep its license, postponing a decision to a later date or revoking the license, which would stop the bowl game, Poppe said.

Right.  The NCAA is going to shut down a BCS game.  Based on what?

… Poppe said the Fiesta Bowl, along with all other bowls, last year received a four-year operating license from the NCAA. He said the NCAA has revoked licenses in the past for the Seattle Bowl and Silicon Valley Football Classic because of poor attendance and financial problems.

Neither the Fiesta Bowl nor the Insight Bowl has those problems, and Poppe said there is no “morals or conduct code” that could allow the NCAA to revoke a bowl operating license.

So the same people who let Cam Newton’s season play out because there wasn’t a rule on the books covering his situation are suddenly going to put their foot down here?  Consistency, thy name is NCAA.

Of course, if you’re an organization that’s looking for a way to rearrange a status quo that’s quite lucrative for other folks so that you can stick your hands in the money pot too, blowing up a BCS game “in the best interest of college athletics” is a good start.

11 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, The NCAA