Andy Staples looks at the oodles of dough the SEC Network is already spinning off for its schools and has a vision.
It also means that anytime someone affiliated with the Big Ten or SEC says they would have to cut sports if forced to pay football and men’s basketball players more, that person is a lying liar who lies. It means that person is peddling more bovine excrement than the fine folks at Black Kow, whose core business is the sale of cow manure. This new money will allow the Big Ten and SEC to easily pay full cost of attendance scholarships, but all the schools in the Power Five leagues should be able to easily afford that.
The federal courts probably will force the schools to pay the athletes more on top of that, and for a legitimate reason. The schools decided to become the sellers of television programs when they sued the NCAA in 1981, and while that has allowed them to enjoy the spoils of the TV business, they soon will learn what other programmers have learned: Eventually, you have to give the performers a raise or somebody will bury you in court.
Athletic directors will claim their programs don’t make money, but that’s also a lie at most Power Five schools. They would make money if they weren’t giving their coaches huge raises and putting gold-plated waterfalls in their locker rooms. Do not confuse an inability to manage money with a lack of money, and don’t believe people who just got $10 million more when they say they can’t pay for the programs they were already funding with $10 million less.
The key month to remember is October, when Jenkins v. NCAA is scheduled to have its class certification hearing. That case, spearheaded by famed sports labor lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, seeks to obliterate the business model in major college sports and create a completely open market. As you’ve read above, the dollar figures in major college sports are too large to simply walk away. So something will happen if the class gets certified. Either the wealthiest leagues in college sports will cut a deal with their athletes or they will roll the dice and go to court.
A loss would result in a radically different landscape. A deal collectively bargained with the athletes would keep the money flowing and probably allow for an antitrust exemption that stops the lawsuits. And the athletes wouldn’t ask for much. They’d probably take 10-15 percent of athletically related revenue right now. Go to court, and a judge or jury might treat these college sports leagues that make money selling television programs just like the other sports leagues that make money selling television programs. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement gives players 47 percent of basketball-related income. The NFL’s gives players 55 percent of television money, 45 percent of NFL Properties money and 40 percent of locally generated revenue. Suddenly, 10 percent sounds like a bargain.
What does all this court-related discussion have to do with the SEC’s celebration of its network haul? Everything. The leagues realized their people could get rich by diving headfirst into the television business, and now they’re reaping the rewards and the consequences. But for two leagues, the rewards are going to be far greater.
If you think about this for a minute, the Big Ten and SEC are in something of a no-lose situation. If the schools and the NCAA are smart enough to settle the antitrust litigation, they’ll be the two conferences that are in the best position to do so. And if they don’t and Kessler wins, they may be the only two conferences that will be able to afford the aftermath without missing much of a beat.
What that says about trial strategy and maybe even how the politics of seeking an antitrust exemption may be something to watch unfold. And nobody says these guys are smart enough to work things out optimally. But being the camel farmer sitting on top of all that oil sure beats the alternative.