Competitive balance, my arse

If Emmert’s testimony yesterday about player compensation was little more than a combination of sanctimonious wishful thinking and denial, his defense of competitive balance in college football was downright dishonest.

Emmert said amateurism is essential to competitive balance in college sports. While he has supported reforms such as cost-of-attendance increases — though he wouldn’t call them stipends — he added that requiring further compensation to athletes would result in some schools having to drop other sports programs or drop out of Division I altogether, which require schools to offer 16 sports in order to qualify.

He even went to the extent of citing Alabama’s loss to Louisiana-Monroe and Michigan’s loss to Appalachian State in support of that.  (Nevermind that losses like those are so rare that it’s easy to remember them by name.)

But this is where my bullshit detector’s needle broke:

“To convert college sports into professional sports would be tantamount to converting it into minor league sports,” Emmert said. “And we know that in the U.S. minor league sports aren’t very successful either for fan support or for the fan experience.”

Professional minor leagues aren’t the minor leagues because their players are paid.  They’re minor leagues because their teams are under the control of parties who don’t have a stake in the outcome of their seasons.

Back in the 1930’s Branch Rickey came up with a revolutionary innovation, the baseball farm system.  Twice, Commissioner Landis freed a number of players in Rickey’s system from their contracts because he opposed turning the minor leagues into vassal states of major league teams.  Read this exchange between the two to understand what the real issue is with minor league play and fan interest.  Landis’ final observation – “I think it is as big as the universe.  This is just as important in the Three-I League as it would be in the National or American Leagues.” – is the crux of what defines being a minor league.

It’s not about pay.  It’s about independence.  Until the NFL can dictate to Mark Richt during the week before the Georgia Tech game that Todd Gurley is being brought up to play for one of its teams, Emmert is completely off base with his analogy.

But skip past that.  If you want something in the here and now that exposes the phoniness of Emmert’s concern about competitive balance, check out one of the impending fruits of the Big Five’s push for autonomy, a proposed change to the transfer rules.

The wealthiest college football conferences (Big 12, Big Ten, Atlantic Conference, Pac-12, Southeastern Conference) are willing to work with all of Division I to come up with a solution, but they also want the power to make their own transfer rules if need be as part of an autonomy structure the NCAA is moving toward.

If you think this is making mid-major schools nervous, give yourself a nickel.

That worries the schools outside those powerful leagues, concerned they’ll be in danger of losing their best players to the Big Five.

Most of the areas in which the Big Five conferences are seeking autonomy are related to how schools spend money on athletes. Transfer regulations are seen more as purely competitive-balance issues.

”I still haven’t gotten a good answer as to why transfer rules have been included in the autonomy bucket,” said SMU athletic director Rick Hart, whose school plays in the American Athletic Conference, one of the other five leagues in the top tier of college football knows as FBS.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one, Rick.  Besides, I think you already know the answer, even if it isn’t what you’d call a good one.  Or the one the Big Five commissioners – or Emmert, for that matter – will give when they enact their own version.


UPDATE:  More thoughts on competitive balance here.


Filed under College Football, It's Not Easy Being A Mid-Major, The NCAA

49 responses to “Competitive balance, my arse

  1. I have nothing to add, just wanted to say thank you for your breakdown and analysis of all this as it goes on. Makes it a lot easier to understand.


  2. Chuck

    He beat me to it, but the Rev is right. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the Plaintiff’s attorneys check this site out and read your commentary while preparing final arguments. I know I would. 🙂


  3. Deutschland Domiciliary Dog

    Emmert is dead wrong about minor league fan experience.

    The high point of my two and a half years living in Macon was 50 beer nights at Macon Peaches baseball games.

    Well that, and playing golf for next to nothing at the public golf course.

    And the day Macon shut down due to six inches of snow (and the convenience stores stayed open).

    Come to think of it, all three involved much the same thing.


  4. CreswellKing

    First, thank you Senator for everything you do. And while I agree with you on almost all these issues, Emmert somewhat has a point here.

    If we’re going to pay players, we need to think of what kind of structure to use. Here are some examples of current professional leagues and their methods:

    NFL: draft, team salary cap, and franchise tag (essentially a player salary cap).
    NBA: draft, player salary cap, and team salary cap.
    MLB: draft, but no team or player caps.
    English Premier League: no draft, no caps, and not even trades; they just literally buy and sell player contracts. Think a 12-year old kid will be good? Go “buy” him from his parents and move him to your “academy” middle/high school.

    Then issue is the competitive balance of these different leagues. There are a number of academic studies on these, but the general consensus is the EPL is the least competitive. Over the last 10-20 years, something like 4 teams have made up 75% of the top 5 standings (80% being perfect). And probably 7-8 teams made up 99% of the top 5 standings.

    Now that I’ve babbled on, here is the key point: we need to pay players. But given the recruiting process, we should pay all the players the exact same to keep competitive balance. To keep that amount fair, we should somehow implement collective bargaining (the mechanic that makes the NFL’s/etc. structure actually legal).


    • Let me hit your end point first. I think you’re totally correct to suggest that if schools wind up having to pay players, that union’s suddenly going to look a lot more attractive as a bargaining partner.

      But I’ll say it again: competitive balance is a convenient myth, nothing more. If you restrict player compensation, that doesn’t mean Alabama still won’t be taking in more revenue than Boise State. All you do with a salary cap is enable ‘Bama to keep on doing what it’s been doing.


      • CreswellKing

        “competitive balance is a convenient myth, nothing more”

        I adamantly disagree with this. And the differences between those professional leagues have been studied in a number of academic studies that mathematically measure competitive balance.

        Now, maybe I wasn’t clear enough. I meant that we currently have an “X” amount of competitive balance (CB). If we pay players, but pay them equally, we’ll still maintain a CB close to “X”. If we allowed “anything goes” open market rules (a la European soccer), CB would be reduced. The Ole Miss and gts of the world would have a tough time competing with the big schools.


        • Explain how Troy and Georgia, which face off this season, are competitively balanced.


          • CreswellKing

            Maybe we need to define the term competitive balance. CB does not mean all teams are competitive or are on equal footing. It’s just the term we use to describe the relative strengths and weaknesses of programs in the current landscape.

            So to answer your question: the current competitive balance between Georgia and Troy is heavily slanted in Georgia’s favor. And paying players wouldn’t change that much at all.

            But last year, the competitive balance between Ole Miss and Texas was such that Ole Miss not only beat Texas in their home stadium, but absolutely stomped them. That relative parity in competitive balance will go away if there were no rules on paying players.


            • Ole Miss beats Texas is your idea of parity.

              The relatively small number of schools that have played for or won national titles over the last three decades is my idea of the myth of competitive balance.


              • rhymerdawg

                So does that mean competitive balance has to be defined as the number of different schools who win national championship over a defined period of time? If so I am not sure I would agree with that definition either.

                Competative balance is more like offensive balance to CMB 5 years ago or more like offensive balance to CMB last year. Why does balance have to mean equal?

                I have more to say but really want to hear how you answer that question.


                • I think you’re missing the point here. The argument is that if players are paid, they’ll flock to the powerhouse schools with the greatest assets. Well, guess what? They’re already doing that.


                • By the way, don’t take my word for it.

                  That’s from materials for a 2011 NCAA presidential retreat Emmert organized.


              • CreswellKing

                Ok. So it’s a “myth”. Sure, assume that. But if we paid players openly, do you think that number of teams playing for NCs would increase or decrease? And would that be a good thing or bad thing for the sport/fans?


                • I don’t think it’ll make a whit of difference if Alabama spends $8 million dollars on player compensation instead of a waterfall in the locker room. Do you?


                • Dog in Fla

                  Sure, it’s no DeSoto Falls but it does tie the room together


                • Rhymerdawg

                  You still have not defined competititve balance. If you are going to take such an argument then you need to be able to not just tear down the other guys arguments but your are also going to have to develop your own. So begin with the definition of competitive balance.

                  While I agree they are already doing the “mythical,” I am still not sure that matters when you are deflating the “myth” of competitive balance. The problem as I see it is that we are so busy saying what is wrong we have failed to state what is right.

                  So before we go knocking down a system because it is wrong, then we better have a clear idea of what is right, otherwise, it just creates a void. So you want there to be change then tell me what it should become.


                • Why do I have to provide a definition? The NCAA is defending its; that’s what’s relevant here.

                  Did you not see Slive’s quote about the “so-called” level playing field? There’s no such thing as competitive balance, at least as the NCAA describes it, unless you’re going to push that all schools share all revenue equally. And that, I can assure you, ain’t happening.

                  As for what’s right, let me start with a simple proposition: it’s wrong to prohibit anyone from profiting off their name, image or likeness.


                • CreswellKing

                  These are really good points, Rhynerdawg. To answer your question:

                  If CFB becomes professional or semi-professional, we should consider what structure that would be. I would prefer to lean towards the NFL side of the paradigm opposed to the European soccer side. I wouldn’t advocate a draft, but some sort of salary cap to restrict player pay should be done. Currently, that amount is zero, decided by the NCAA. Instead that amount should be $X, decided by the collective bargaining between some sort of player’s organization (could be a union, but doesn’t have to be) and the NCAA or group of conferences.


                • If CFB becomes professional or semi-professional…

                  I’m sorry, but I can’t help but chuckle here. In the last decade, we’ve seen:

                  • massive conference realignment, none attributable to academic reasons
                  • coaching salaries at NFL/NBA levels
                  • the creation of conference networks, some owned partially or totally by the conference
                  • playoff expansion for the purpose of increased revenue generation (none of which will go to the players who will sacrifice their bodies for an additional game per season)

                  All “If CFB becomes professional or semi-professional” means is players getting paid more money than you think they deserve.


                • CreswellKing

                  I absolutely think it will make a HUGE difference. Because there’s only so much marginal benefit you can get with a waterfall. But with players, why stop at $8M? You can “buy” a lot more five-star athletes with cash than you can a waterfall.

                  And imagine what The Boone Pickens will do. OSU would become the Yankees of CFB unless other rich boosters step up to match him. Personally, I don’t like the idea of my team’s success being dependent on how rich/generous my school’s boosters are.


                • OSU would become the Yankees of CFB…

                  Not the best analogy I can think of. How many World Series have the Yankees won in the past ten years?

                  Personally, I don’t like the idea of my team’s success being dependent on how rich/generous my school’s boosters are.

                  Umm… what do you think has been going on in college football all this time?


  5. Derek

    That lack of NFL control makes the analogy weaker doesn’t eliminate the concern raised. The fact is that college football has appeared more and more like a minor league for a while. Lowered entrance standards and speciality created majors for dumb jocks and recruiting BB players who announce in advance that they are “one and done” all contribute to this. That the ncaa sees payment as being the “bridge too far” is probably correct. At that point the debate is really over. Trying to pretend that it isn’t minor league sports is gone. The lie is no longer convincing.

    What troubles me isn’t that they want to protect college football as I do think that college football could be irretrievably harmed here. What troubles me is that they aren’t willing to risk any of their money to protect it. The way to have won would have been to recognize the hypocrisy, roll it back and start over.

    I think there were two possibilities here;

    Play college sports with college students again or

    House professional teams on campus.

    I’m sure many think the latter won’t hurt the sport but I’m not so sure. I think that the dwindling number of students going to these games may be the canary in the coal mine.


    • It doesn’t make the analogy weaker. It makes it non-existent.

      If you’re simply trying to say that “minor league” is less than “major league”, okay, but I don’t think that’s particularly insightful.


      • Derek

        I don’t think we’re disagreeing on much. If you pay the players it’s in that sense a professional league and as you suggest it would be “minor” compared to the NFL. The other way in which it is “minor” though is the collusion. The nfl bars certain individuals from the league purposefully to allow the colleges to develop its talent. If there we’d no college football would they let these guys float from high school until they were 20? Doubtful. They collude because it’s in both parties interest to collude which creates the impression of a minor or developmental league or whatever nomenclature that floats your boat. The issue it seems to me is what do we want college football to be?

        I’ve tried to be very consistent on this. If the colleges want to remain greedy, then I say share it. My preference would be that colleges go back to playing with college students rather than knuckleheads who are biding their time to go pro. I think the the colleges could live off the money generated from that endeavor. We don’t have to have 7 million dollar a year coaches. We really don’t. It’ll be ok.


  6. I will through an idea out….allow the Division 4 schools to spin off their sports programs whereby the universities would retain 49% ownership. Universities would still own the stadia, which would be leased to the sports programs. Universities would not have liability concerns related to player injury and would have minimal oversight on academic issues. I would allow a FB player to attend Athens Tech if that is what made sense, and still play for UGA because he is at that point, playing for the program and not the school. The investors owning 51% (probably comprised mainly of current seat licensee payers) would have 7 members on a 12 person board. The Chairman of the Board would be the University president. This is a very simplistic model, but I think it would address many of the issues related to player pay while still maintaing a tenuous connection to the University (I would argue, though, that the current connection is tenuous at best)..


  7. I Wanna Red Cup

    We can’t have some with money money or toys than others? That sounds an awful lot like socialism. Is Emmert a socialist? A communist? I guess as long as he and the university prezes can continue to cash huge TV checks that is ok. NCAA is worried about agents and lawyers exploiting players instead of the NCAA? What a defense !


  8. Rp

    I got it. Everyone reallllly hates mark Emmett and he’s a self serving hypocrite. That doesn’t mean he’s not correct about competitive balance. Player pay would absolutely hurt the ms states, Kentucky’s, and vandy’s of cfb. They cannot afford additional costs the way uga and bama can. Furthermore, say goodbye to the chances of those schools ever getting another 5-star player because they will now have to consider how various schools will affect their ability to market themselves while in college. Choosing ky over uga can happen now because if you are good enough that decision will not have too much impact on getting to the nfl. However, now we have to consider earnings potential while in college. when recruiters can demonstrate to you the bottom line $$$ impact that decision has on you by attending a national powerhouse vs a lower tier school, virtually no one would walk away from cash for team or state loyalty.


  9. 2013 Georgia revenue: $98,120,889
    2013 Kentucky revenue: $95,720,724

    (figures per USA Today)

    WTF are you talking about?


  10. CreswellKing

    I guess the comments here cutoff at some point, so I’ll respond here.

    “All ‘If CFB becomes professional or semi-professional, means is players getting paid more money than you think they deserve.”

    And how much money do I think they deserve? How much money do you think they deserve?

    “How many World Series have the Yankees won in the past ten years?”

    How many divisional titles have they won? And besides. You can pick apart the analogy over the last ten years, but the point still stands.

    “Umm… what do you think has been going on in college football all this time?”

    I think boosters have increased coaches salaries and paid more amazing facilities/etc. which have reach a very strong point of diminishing returns. No recruit is going great to think “well Bama has one waterfall, but Oregon has THREE waterfalls, I guess I’ll go to Oregon.”


    • And how much money do I think they deserve? How much money do you think they deserve?

      Whatever the market will bear, just like anyone else in this country.


      • CreswellKing

        “just like anyone else in this country.”

        No, I think you mean “just like anyone in European soccer”. “Whatever the market will bear” is absolutely not the amount that MLB, NBA, or NFL players make.

        There’s nothing inherently right or wrong about either structure. Personally, I prefer the structure and competitive balance the NFL has compared to leagues like the EPL. Perhaps you prefer the way the English do it. But don’t tell me “what the market will bear” is what everyone else (especially professional athletes) in this country get paid.


        • I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. “Whatever the market will bear” isn’t what professional athletes make? What is it, then?


          • CreswellKing

            Again, European soccer is closest to “what the market will bear”. The NFL has the draft (which creates around 250 monopolies), a salary cap (which restricts player pay) and a franchise tag (which restricts player pay).There are also all sorts of rules around restricted free agent, unrestricted free agent, etc.

            The only reason these things haven’t been declared in violation of US Antitrust laws is because they are agreed opon with the two parties (NFL and NFLPA) through collective bargaining.


            • “What the market will bear” isn’t the same thing as a blank check. I never said otherwise.

              But I think you’re missing some of what’s going to open up if the NCAA loses O’Bannon. The trial is about names, images and likenesses and who controls the commercial exploitation of those items. If control of those is restored to the players, they’ll be free to negotiate with third parties.

              As for the rest of your speculation, it’s best to wait and see how the other litigation plays out, especially the Kessler suit.

              Why is this so important to you, by the way? Isn’t the key that student-athletes will receive control of some form of compensation for their efforts without being prohibited from playing college sports?


              • CreswellKing

                Because it would be too easy for, say as an example, Nike to tell a HS recruit: “come to Oregon, and we’ll promise you $X of endorsements.” Instead, I’d prefer player’s likenesses be “owned” by a hypothetical CFBPA who negotiated with third parties on behalf of the players. And the money went to a fund for all players, not just the one doing the commercial.

                So in summary, I absolutely, 100% believe players deserve to be paid. And they should be paid an amount agreed upon through some sort of collective bargaining. Not some arbitrary number the NCAA comes up with. But for the sake of competitive balance, I think (although arguably unfair), the backup center should be paid the same as Johnny Football.


                • Well, there won’t be any collective bargaining until there’s a players’ union to negotiate with. And the NCAA and the schools are probably going to lose a lawsuit or two before that happens.


                • CreswellKing

                  True. But they’ve settled the first and are about to lose their second. I get the feeling it’s a sooner rather than later issue. To trumpet the most cliche phrase in sports media, “I guess we’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out.”


          • CreswellKing

            So, no the salary for NFL players is not “what the market will bear”. It’s capped at $4.256 billion for 2014.


  11. DawgPhan

    He is talking about that imaginary thing that doesnt happen, but he would be heart broken over if something happened to it.

    You know like if Todd Gurley killed a unicorn.