Jim Delany’s fear of spending

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.



Filed under Big Ten Football, It's Just Bidness

13 responses to “Jim Delany’s fear of spending

  1. sniffer

    What have you got against Gambier? Its lovely in the fall.


  2. Man, you’re making my brain work hard this morning with all those words Senator. 😉 So Delany’s argument is that football pays for those non revenue sports, and that athletes wanting a cut of that Football revenue will be biting into other sports. So basically he is saying that football and basketball athletes should pay for other sports and not the the University.

    Now granted, these athletes benefit from a schools brand and the exposure it brings (not to mention the education). But the schools also benefit from the athletes talents and sacrifices. Its a tricky subject, but your overall point is spot on, Delany is an asshat in over his head.

    I’ll go back to drinking my overly sugared Dunkin coffee now…


  3. Dog in Fla

    In unrelated B1G economic boycott news, Delany goes to mattresses, leaves gun, takes cannoli, eats it, orders take-out pasta and lookouts to stand in school house door and toll booth to identify and terminate any incoming Sonny enemy forces. Elsewhere, Denard suspects that Delany and Larry Michael Scott are like-minded BFF but is nevertheless willing to donate untied shoelaces to UM field hockey team.


  4. AusDawg85

    The trap of thinking this is a zero-sum game. If Michigan wants to support field hockey, then market Denard Robinson MORE aggressively. Sure, Denard gets a bigger amount, but it’s still only a cut of the total. The increase would, in fact, support field hockey.

    Win-win if an equitable sharing of revenues is the goal…which, of course, it is not.


  5. Skeptic Dawg

    I read this article twice. During my second reading I replaced Delany’s name with Greg McGarity. It sent chills down my spine. As Dawg fans, we are watching the passing of non-rev sports before our eyes. UGA baseball and mens basketball are on life support as we speak, however, McGarity is unwilling to make financial driven decision in either sport. Make no mistake about it, Delany and the B1G are not alone in their thought process. They are merely the first to voice their opinion. What I find to be extremely scary in this matter is that I can picture McGarity loading UGA athletics in the same boat that Delany is driving. I may be wrong (Lord knows it would not be the first time)! McGarity may be willing to dip into the pile of cash at his disposal to make the required changes in both baseball and basketball this year.


  6. 81Dog

    So, the suits want to move from a ” not from each team according to its ability to generate revenue, but to each team according to its need” model to a pure laissez faire “rrot, hog, or die” model of athletic financing.

    guess which one allows bean counters, administrators and administration suits to claim huge salaries, generous benefit packages, and pasha like offices, entourages, and “fact finding/research” travel destintions? Hah. It’s a trick question! They get that either way.

    I’ll believe the suits are serious about restraining costs when they take THEIR hands out of the till. Which should happen about the same time as Steve Spurrier gives Bill Stanfill a big, wet, sloppy kiss on the lips, with a little tongue.


  7. Monday Night Frotteur

    The NCAA and its minions (like Delany) has been on a massive message-retreat ever since Taylor Branch’s The Cartel created broad awareness of the sham of faux-amateurism. They’re not talking about the snowflake purity of faux-amateurism anymore, they’re saying “either the revenue athletes engage in this pointless, bloated cross-subsidization (with the suits getting a massive cut) or we’ll shut the whole thing down. We do what we want.”

    Not a good position to be in for the inevitable march to Congress to beg for an antitrust exemption.


  8. Always Someone Else's Fault

    Employment law is a difficult and cumbersome beast, and I only know the tip of the iceberg from being debriefed by HR when hiring and firing. Someone with some background explain this to me: doesn’t bringing athletes into the employment mix ultimately have ripple effects across the entire organizational structure, from janitorial staffs to the Chancellor’s secretary? Health care, for example. As things currently stand, athletes receive a level of health care normal students don’t, and that’s fine. But if they become employees, my understanding is that the athletes would have to downgrade to whatever plan the rest of the employees use – OR – extend the same services available to athletes to all employees. How do many companies handle this now? They simply pay the execs additional $$$ to cover the premiums and deductibles. And that’s ONE issue.

    If forced to choose between treating athletes as employees or finding some new sham amateurism cover and rebuilding from there, I have my guess which way they will go. I am not saying they would be right in that decision. I can predict what Congress will (or won’t) do and why without agreeing with it.


    • James

      My guess is your second point. How do NFL teams handle it? My guess is they segment out health care from training services, but I have no idea. Additionally, it’s possible that they are able to legally maintain the players as students and just enter into some kind of contractor agreement that gives them revenue share, which isn’t an employee relationship (in theory). But again: me = no clue…but good questions.


  9. Ted

    You are such an idiot sometimes….I am at a loss for words, Blutarsky.


  10. James

    For the Big Ten this all goes back to adding Maryland in my opinion, which really, from my perspective, was the first time you really had teams openly at press conferences saying that 100% of the decision was about money and using a “health of the business” attitude towards forfeiting identity and history for money (which was really what Maryland admins said to their students and alums as the justification, who were all in a strong majority, against the move).

    As soon as you go down that road, you start calling athletic departments businesses, and you end up with field hockey questions like the above. There aren’t a lot of ways out of that corner. Other than lower administrative salaries, of course.