Category Archives: College Football

“So ’23, ’24, that’s what everybody thinks about.”

Death, taxes and conference realignment.

Realignment appears to be in sleep mode. For now. But the potential for realignment — and the strategy for when it surfaces again — never completely leaves the radar of college sports’ power brokers. That’s why they’re thinking about 2023.

Why 2023?

I presume that’s a rhetorical question.  Why does anything that’s crappy for fans happen in college football?  No, you don’t get any guesses.

… It starts with expiring TV contracts. The ACC and SEC both have long-term media grant-of-rights agreements, running through 2035-36 and 2033-34, respectively. But the other three Power 5 conferences have agreements ending roughly around the same time (the SEC’s Tier 1 deal with CBS runs through 2023-24). The Big Ten last summer opted for a shorter agreement with Fox and ESPN, which runs through 2022-23. The Pac-12 deal expires after the 2023-24 sports year, and the Big 12’s ends the following year.

“Conferences have expanded primarily to take really good football schools to enhance their football footprint and strength, and also to help their [television] networks,” Aresco said. “The question down the road will be whether any conferences want to add schools that they feel will strengthen them in football, whether it’s because of an upcoming rights fee deal, or they feel it would strengthen their conference network….

Traditional rights deals aren’t the only reason 2023 matters. By then the traditional rights deal itself might be obsolete. Conferences recognize that fans are consuming content, including live events, in different ways. This shift will continue to impact current distributors like ESPN, Fox and CBS, and could bring different companies into the distribution market, like Amazon, Google, Facebook or Twitter.

Leagues like the Pac-12 are counting on it, especially because its own network has yet to produce significant revenue for members.

“I don’t think anyone knows exactly what the landscape will look like, or what health ESPN or Fox will have in 2023 when we’re negotiating, or how significant a player Twitter or Facebook will be,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said last month at the league’s spring meetings. “My sense is that there will be more competition. There will be more and different types of players.”

Oh, goody.  Another chance for the Jed Clampetts of the P5 conferences to be acclaimed geniuses.

Assuming there’s still a P5 in a decade, that is.

… Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger shocked boosters with a surprise announcement at a happy hour Kansas City gathering.

Zenger boldly presented a $300 million stadium renovation project that will include an indoor practice facility. That rocked the fundraising arm in athletic departments from coast to coast.

In a vacuum, this would be surprising news. Per USA Today, $300 million is more than three times Kansas’ current athletic revenue. Per that same database, $300 million for this one project is also $108 million more than Texas A&M’s total athletic revenue, the largest in the country.

This is Kansas, a basketball school, winner of exactly one FBS game in coach David Beaty’s two seasons. The program as a whole hasn’t won more than three games since 2008.

There’s something else going on here.

“It brings us into the level of playing field that you must be at to be a Power Five university,” Beaty said.

Read that quote carefully: This is as much an all-in financial commitment as it is as a buy-in for KU to have a seat at the table in the next round of conference realignment.

At least you’d better believe that’s how Zenger is selling it to boosters.

A $300 million bet on surviving a conference blowup?  When they say follow the money, this is what they’re talking about.

Oh, yeah, it’s coming.



Filed under Big 12 Football, College Football, It's Just Bidness

Today, in random acts of schmuckery

Transfer requests do tend to bring out a coach’s inner douchebag.  Take, for example, our good friend Gus Malzahn.  It should be no surprise, given the history, that some Auburn players would prefer to play for Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson in Columbia, since those are the pair who originally recruited them to the Plains.  Nor should we be surprised that Gus is reluctant to share the wealth.

But it’s the little curve balls that allow a man’s true dickishness to shine through.

… Jackson on Wednesday spoke in detail for the first time regarding his current situation. That includes a June 8 appeal at Auburn, which has blocked him from a clean transfer to any other SEC school, Clemson, Ohio State, Mercer and Georgia Southern.

Clemson, Mercer and Georgia Southern are on the Tigers’ schedule this season. Ohio State and USC are not…

“My question was: Why are they blocking Ohio State for no reason?” Jackson said. “They just put Ohio State on there for no reason. My question to them is why are they blocking me from a Big Ten school when they don’t have anything to do with Big Ten schools? Why didn’t they block me from Michigan or Indiana or any other Big Ten school? Why would they do that immediately?”

Because they can, silly.  Because they can.

Relatively speaking, Gus is a piker with this.  If you want to see a grand master at work, check out Bill Snyder’s approach.

In a phone conversation Wednesday with the Eagle, Sutton said he presented K-State with a list of 35 potential transfer destinations in early May and the school denied his release to all 35 a week later. Sutton said the list didn’t contain any Big 12 schools or teams on future K-State schedules. Some were FCS and Division II. Didn’t matter. K-State blocked him everywhere.

He appealed that ruling, but K-State upheld it on Wednesday.

“When I originally told Coach Snyder I was going to transfer he said, ‘Well, Corey, I feel bad that you want to leave, but I can’t make you stay,’ ” Sutton said. “I dropped all my classes, moved out of Kansas and started looking at my options, then I find out they are denying me my release.

“Coach Snyder told me today that when I signed my letter of intent that was my commitment to him, that I was going to be there for four years. I heard that and told him, ‘Coaches can leave. So why can’t a player leave? You made a commitment to me that you were going to treat me the right way and that’s not what you’re doing.’

…Snyder addressed the Sutton situation at a Catbackers event in Overland Park on Thursday.

“I’ve been around there for 28 years, the young man was in our program for less than two years,” Snyder said. “I think our fans know what I’m about. They know what our program is about. I think they trust that.

“The feeling all along if you’re a No. 2 you probably want to be a No. 1. If you have the option to leave and you have 22 No. 2s on your team leaving you don’t have much of a team left. It doesn’t make sense to not try to prevent that from happening.”

NCAA rules allow Sutton to transfer to another school of his choosing with or without a release from K-State, but he is only allowed to receive financial aid from a different school next year if he receives his release from K-State.

“I don’t have enough money for that,” Sutton said. “(Snyder) is trying to treat me like I am his kid. Why is he treating a 19-year old like that and trying to change his life like that? I have never heard of anything like this before.”

Son, you need to get out more.

That’s not even the topper, though.  Snyder made sure after defeating Sutton in battle, he finished the deal by salting the earth.

Snyder then said Sutton had twice tested positive for drug use at K-State.

“I’ve never kept a player in our program who’s tested positive twice,” Snyder said. “We have some rules in the athletic department that allowed that to happen this time.”

Going public about a player’s failed drug testing?  Now that’s something I’ve never heard of before.  Say this for Coach Snyder — when he burns a bridge, that sucker is burned and then nuked from orbit just to make sure.  You almost have to admire the man’s thoroughness.


UPDATE:  Once again, shame trumps control.

Makes you wonder why they have to behave like a dumbass in the first place.


Filed under College Football

Just because they never had it so good may be true doesn’t make it right.

An alert reader passed on this tour de force defense of what currently passes for amateurism, suspecting I’d have a reaction.  Guess what?  He’s right.

It’s not the romance part that gets me.  As I’ve said before, been there, done that.  If somebody feels in their heart of hearts that players shouldn’t be compensated any more than they already are, more power to him or her.  I don’t mind a romantic — just one who finds it convenient to ignore anything you might learn in an Econ 101 class.

Take, for example the juxtaposition of “they’ve never had it so good” here…

The list of perks for being a football player at a big-time program is long and enviable. All the food you can eat. Lodging at what is typically the best dorm on campus. Enough team-issued gear — some recruits will turn spurn an adidas school in favor of a Nike school — to make for quite an extensive wardrobe.

… with, “hey, they’re just like any other college kid” here:

This isn’t to say that there aren’t hard times. Many of these families can’t afford to put money in their sons’ accounts.

It’s not unusual to hear stories about players going hungry on weekends because the cafeteria was closed. Scholarship players aren’t allowed to have jobs during the season, and there’s no time for one anyway.

You know who has similar problems? Pretty much every other student on campus — the ones who can’t run a 4.4 40 or bench press 400 pounds. Practically all college kids are broke. It’s a part of the experience. Find any successful graduate, and he can probably tell you about that month junior year when he lived off ramen noodles.

Which is it, then?  And why is any of that relevant in light of an argument — “80,000 fans fill Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturdays in the fall to watch football, not lab experiments.” — that even he concedes is legitimate?

Then there’s the ever-popular, arrogant “eh, if we paid the kids real money, they’d just blow it on video games and weed” argument.

They’re also getting stipends now, supposedly to pay for the cost-of-living expenses not typically covered by a full ride. Laundry money, grocery money, gas money — most of these kids are away from home for the first time. There’s no accounting procedure for that cash, though. Tattoo artists are no doubt grateful.

Yeah, it would be a real shame for them to spend a few of their bucks on tats.  It’s far wiser for the folks running the sport to take that money and spend it on Charlie Weis, Larry Scott and Lane Kiffin.  The beautiful thing there is denying the first opportunity is what enables the second.

Oh, let’s not discount the free will argument.  Nobody’s holding a gun to these kids’ heads, damn it!

If a young man dreams of making it to the NFL, this is the only path. No minor league. No European league. If he doesn’t agree with the college football model, well, nobody is forcing him to fax in that letter of intent.

These are the rules of engagement. A lot of people around them — not just the Sabans of the world — are making a lot of money, but let’s stop comparing college football players to Chinese factory workers. Their scholarships are only becoming more valuable, too. Tuition costs keep going higher. Swag bags keep getting bigger.

“These are the rules of engagement.”  Never mind that in the real world, rules are set in the market, while in the college athletic world, they’re imposed by a cartel that doesn’t allow its hired help to obtain counsel to understand those rules, let alone negotiate them.

(By the way, I note with some amusement that Crist has a sad over some schools’ athletic departments losing money.  Accepting for the sake of argument the validity of the bookkeeping behind that proposition, who’s forcing them to sign up for that?)

When you can argue — apparently with a straight face — that, at $11 million, Nick Saban is underpaid, but his players aren’t, I’d say you have a strange grasp of economics.

That you firmly believe in the aesthetics that the players get enough as it is as a moral judgment is an opinion with which I may disagree, but I won’t challenge your right to express it.  To dress it up with pseudo-economic rationales like silly references to minor-league baseball (is there a minor league set up to earn revenue like the Big Ten or SEC do?) or free clothes (remember, the schools get paid multi-millions by the clothing companies for those clothes), or the tired straw man plantation argument (“Some go so far as to say that they’re a step above slave labor.”), though, is nothing but a dodge.  The real issue we should be debating if we’re going to be honest about it is this:  would these kids be any worse off if the market determined the value of their services?

Or to put it another way, what’s the economic, as opposed to the emotional, justification for treating student-athletes differently from other students, or, for that matter, any other American seeking to market their skills?  If there’s something valid in treating these kids as wards in need of protection, then maybe there’s good reason for the way the NCAA controls their compensation.  But I suspect that people who go to the lengths John Crist does to construct a defense of the status quo know deep down inside that it’s just a lot of empty spin to justify their emotions about amateurism.

If you disagree, perhaps you can explain why, if the purity of the college amateur experience is sacrosanct to our enjoyment of the sport, people like Crist can sheepishly defend what exists now, instead of decrying it as a debasement of that ideal.  As the old saying goes, you can’t be a little pregnant.

This isn’t a debate I expect to win with some of you.  It’s just that I’d like to hear answers to some of these questions from those of you who think there’s something more to this debate than a mere emotional preference.

Because that’s the heart of Crist’s argument when he writes,

I’m not here to tell you that the NCAA operates a perfect system. Even suggesting that it’s fair to student-athletes can be a stretch. But I push back when critics whine that players are being exploited solely for the monetary gain of others.

If someone could make more in a free market setting than he’s allowed to make because a group colludes to limit his compensation and appropriates that difference to its own ends, how is that not exploitation?  I’ll hang up and listen to your answers now.


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

Today, in doing it for the kids

Hey, don’t let anyone think coaches aren’t concerned about their charges.  Why, just look at the reasons they favor allowing student-athletes to play in four games without busting their redshirts!

“It would actually enhance their development to some degree,” Saban said during the SEC coaches’ postspring teleconference. “With the numbers that we have right now and the number of games that we’re playing, you might be able to play a few more players in some of those games, and that would help some of the other players on your team, as well.

Gotta love that “to some degree” qualifier.  The real thing that gets enhanced is Saban’s ability to judge earlier whether the time has come to jettison a kid to open up a roster spot for the next five-star recruit.

Mullen also said it would benefit players who might start the season off slowly but gradually work their way into game shape. Instead of sitting them to preserve more eligibility, coaches would now opt to give them valuable experience to better their future development. This proposal could also help with players keep their redshirts if they don’t see action until later in the season but suffer season-ending injuries.

“You should be able to do that,” Mullen said. “I’m definitely in favor of that.”

No shit there, Sherlock.  If a coach wants it, one more year on the roster is never a bad thing.

No matter how these guys spin it, it always comes back to control.  They’re never going to have a problem with anything that helps strengthen that.


Filed under College Football

When it comes to certainty and the future, there’s death, taxes and…

the never-ending expectation of conference commissioners that the broadcast revenue gusher will keep flowing.

The easy hot take given these circumstances is that the sports media rights bubble will pop, and the money college leagues make from selling the broadcast rights to football and basketball will peak just before the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 deals expire in the middle of the next decade. The revenue that has fueled huge coaching salaries, a facilities arms race and angst over the size of the cut the majority of the labor force receives will slow or fall. Power 5 athletic directors will have to—gasp—manage money responsibly instead of simply relying on the next media rights bump to cover any overspending.

The reality is more complicated and less certain. Like newspapers before them, ESPN and Fox will grapple with disruption to their business model and ultimately may have to remake themselves if they want to continue to thrive in the new media landscape. But reflexively forecasting doom assumes television networks are the only entities that will bid on sports rights in the future*. That is almost certainly not going to be the case. “I really see a time when there are going to be a lot of players in the marketplace and there are going to be a lot of distribution methods,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “The unknown is how much is it all worth? I don’t think there’s anyone who legitimately knows what it’s going to be worth.”

*Don’t get hung up on the television-versus-Internet delivery issue. No, streaming isn’t as reliable on May 8, 2017, as cable or satellite service. Buffering remains a problem. But by May 8, 2023, the differences could be negligible.

Bowlsby is correct. No one knows. Not him. Not Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. Not SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. Not Apple CEO—and Auburn grad—Tim Cook. The only thing we do know is that there is a limited number of major college football and basketball games available for sale and there is a built-in demand for them. How much that demand is worth depends on how many companies wind up bidding. “I don’t think anyone knows exactly what the landscape will look like or what health ESPN or Fox will have in 2023 when we’re negotiating or how significant a player a Twitter or a Facebook will be,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said. “My sense is that there will be more competition. There will be more and different types of players. And there will still be very limited and highly valuable sports properties.”

Commissioners and ADs look at tech giants as the white knights that could allow their leagues to keep growing revenues, but the question is whether a Google, an Apple, a Netflix or a Hulu would even want to get into the live sports business. If they did, it would be unwise to assume they would overpay simply because their market capitalizations dwarf those of the players in the marketplace now. The money could stay flat or drop even if the tech companies join the fray, but the leaders of college sports hope the competition for a limited resource might drive up the price. “Long-term, I’m very bullish on the value of premium sports rights,” Scott said. “I see more competitors. And frankly, competitors with bigger market cap than ESPN or Comcast or DirecTV. Some of these companies we’re talking about are huge by comparison. If they decide that sports is a vertical they want to get involved in in a big way, that’s good news for the Pac-12 or the NFL.”

Larry Scott sure knows how to drop words that make him sound like he’s got everything under control.  But notice that the key word in the last sentence of his quote is the first one.  Nothing’s happened yet.

What these guys are banking on, without any concrete evidence that it will come to fruition, is that if more capitalized competition arrives, it’s bound to spend even more money than ESPN and Fox already are, because… well, I’m not exactly sure why.  Maybe Big Jim can explain that to us.

Or these companies might kick the tires on sports rights and decide they don’t need them. Remember, they’re already wildly successful without live sports. This is the gamble Delany took when the Big Ten opted for six-year deals for its Tier 1 and Tier 2 rights. “There’s no doubt we’re in a disruptive environment,” Delany said. “There definitely is money and interest on the sideline. It really hasn’t emerged very much yet, but I’m sure that there is—whether it’s Apple or Google or Hulu or any number of companies.”

Delany is betting that demand for Big Ten football will be so valuable that the revenue from the next deals will outpace these deals. But he also has a hedge; the Big Ten Network’s deal with Fox runs until 2032. On the other end of the spectrum is the ACC, which allowed ESPN to lock up its rights until 2036 in return for getting a conference network that is scheduled to launch in 2019. “If you go shorter, you take out a little more risk,” Delany said. “But you also have a little more upside.”

In other words, these guys don’t have a fucking clue.

ESPN’s recent move to clear out a lot of talented journalists/reporters is more than just serving notice to shareholders that it has a plan to deal with its current numbers crunch.  It’s also a realization that the real value is in live content.  We tune in to watch games; for the most part, we’re indifferent to “The Sports Reporters”.  That’s where Mickey’s expense has to focus, then.

But here’s the thing.  If the WWL continues to pare down its operational expenses by whacking out everything other than sports broadcasts and still finds itself bleeding profit margin, there’s only one conclusion left to draw, and it’s that the overall business model isn’t what it used to be.  If that’s the new normal, to think that a shrewdly operated company like Apple, which makes massive bank as easily as we breath, is going to come in on a white horse and throw stupid money around to pull Larry Scott’s nuts out of the proverbial fire is a pipe dream.

… Every league is feeling it as the cable networks hemorrhage subscribers. An industry that has become accustomed to economic growth now has to grapple with the very real possibility of flat revenue or less revenue in the near future. Of course, the possibility is just as real that some deep-pocketed newcomers could swoop in from Silicon Valley and keep the money flowing. “We could be right, or we could be wrong,” Delany said. “History will tell us.”

Hey, if it blows up in their faces, at least Delany’s already written the epitaph.


Filed under College Football, ESPN Is The Devil, It's Just Bidness

“We lost this idea that every bowl game mattered a long time ago.”

Per Stewart Mandel, the AFCA is forwarding a proposal to the NCAA that would allow players to participate in up to four games of a season without burning their redshirt year.

“I think that would be pretty intriguing to some of the fan bases,” said AFCA executive director Todd Berry, “which might legitimize some of those bowl games and make them more interesting.

Hey, it can’t hurt.


Filed under College Football

“When you get older, you learn you have to make a business decision.”

Now there’s a quote that’ll send shivers down some coaches’ backs.

This offseason alone, Pagano and Cochran are just two of dozens of grad transfers, who in search of better paths to the next level, have shaken up conference championship outlooks and buttressed the playoff hopes of their new teams.

If signing day is college football’s version of the draft, the grad transfer practice has become its free agency.

“These young men who come in, they know everything,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “They’re smart. They’re college graduates. They know this is their last year and are looking for somewhere where they can fit in.”

The grad transfer rule, adopted in 2006, allows players — already physically developed and usually rather seasoned — who earn their undergraduate degree before completing their eligibility to transfer without having to sit out. Quarterback Russell Wilson became the cover boy for grad transfers when he left North Carolina State in 2011 to play his final season at Wisconsin, and led the Badgers to a Big Ten championship.

The movement has since ballooned.

Give Dabo Sweeney some credit for being supportive, though.

Pagano and Baker both received their releases from Clemson’s compliance office to be recruited by other schools the day they asked Tigers coach Dabo Swinney for it. And Baker and Pagano each noted that both Swinney and Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables helped them find new homes, too.

Although you wonder how gracious he might have been if depth had been a concern.

Still, it’s a question of control, so transferring sits well with some coaches more than others.  It’s not at the level it’s at with basketball, but with an upward trend, it wouldn’t surprise me to see more coaches react the way Nick Saban did with Maurice Smith.


Filed under College Football