Category Archives: It’s Just Bidness

His bullshit is immaculate.

When it comes to player compensation, Greg Sankey can mix a fundamentally disingenuous word salad with the best of them.

“People talk about something called ‘name, image and likeness,’” Sankey said. “I’m waiting for everyone to define how that is operationalized. But, fundamentally, it goes back to this phrase ‘student-athlete.’ People take shots at it and say it was created by (former NCAA executive director) Walter Byers. Did you know we had 31 graduate patches in the national championship game? That means 31 out of about 200 players on that field already had earned bachelor’s degrees.”

Not sure what any of that has to do with the price of tea in China.  If he’s suggesting that letting the players make money off something that belongs to them would corrode their ability to pursue their primary purpose in life, maybe Greg can explain how the sweet bank he takes home as SEC Commissioner has made it difficult to do his job.

The idea that it’ll be a breeze to implement an Olympic model for college athletics runs smack dab into this kind of mindset.  It won’t be easy because here’s what Sankey and his constituents are concerned about:

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“You want to keep local kids home when you can.”

One of the start-up professional football leagues, the Alliance of American Football, has announced that signing kids who aren’t yet eligible for the NFL is off the table.

One thing the AAF will not do is bring in college freshmen or sophomores who are not yet eligible for the NFL draft. McKay said he doesn’t think players are ready for pro football until they’re three years out of high school.

“From a health and safety standpoint, we’re concerned about the idea of having a kid come sooner than that,” McKay said.

Eh, maybe.  Although I think we can all point to examples of exceptions.

I suspect this is more about not pissing schools off.  After all, read what the AAF’s marketing strategy is all about:

J.K. McKay, head of football operations for the AAF, told PFT that the AAF’s top priority in stocking the rosters for its teams will be to keep players who played their college football near the AAF’s eight cities close to home.

“You want to keep local kids home when you can,” McKay said. “It creates fan interest. Our Birmingham team will have Alabama and Auburn, and that will draw some fan interest.”

The AAF will have teams in Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis, Orlando, Tempe, Salt Lake City, San Antonio and San Diego. For players who didn’t go to college near any of those cities, they’ll be allocated to AAF teams based on the last NFL roster they were on. Previous rival leagues, including the USFL and XFL, have taken a similar approach.

“It just makes sense,” McKay said. “You’re bringing in guys people know. From a marketing standpoint it’s good, it allows players to stay home. Other leagues have done it and we’re absolutely committed to it and excited about it.”

Creating a hostile relationship with the source of your product isn’t a smart way to go.  Of course, that assumes schools won’t take kindly to having their talent raided on a steady basis.  Maybe some of you in the “kids have options” camp disagree about that, but, then again, you’re not a coach paid to win football games.

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The sick man of the SEC

Believe it or not, there is actually an athletic department in the Southeastern Conference that failed to finish in the black for the last fiscal year.

USA Today released its annual finances report for Division I institutions and the report shows the University of Missouri was the least profitable school in the SEC with $97,848,195, some $2 behind Mississippi State.  Vanderbilt is a private institution and his not required to share their financial reporting.

Mizzou Athletics was the only program to generate less than $100 million.  However, it should be noted that overall, Mizzou is ranked 36th out of 230 public schools in Division I in terms of revenue generated.

What some may find disturbing is that the athletic department failed to turn a profit resulting in a $4.5 million deficit for the first time since 2012.

(Yeah, I know somebody needs an editor there.  But work with him, okay?)

The problem, as you can probably guess, is football.

During the 2016-17 fiscal year, ticket revenue shrank by about $1.15 million, down to $18 million. Sterk said his department has secured about 1,000 new football season ticket holders for the 2018 campaign, but football season ticket totals overall are down from this point a year ago.

The athletic director hopes that the football program’s south end zone project — which is still under construction and will provide more luxury seating to Memorial Stadium while reducing the capacity of MU’s football stadium — will meet the “changing dynamics of the new consumer.”

Yeah, good luck with that.  I suspect he knows there’s something else that would do more for that.

Winning will help generate more palpable excitement, of course. The Tigers return their top players on offense and defense from a season ago in quarterback Drew Lock and defensive lineman Terry Beckner Jr. But Sterk hesitated to say this is Odom’s best opportunity yet to prove he’s the right person to lead the football program.

“Yeah, I think we can make great progress this year, but you guys have been around — you never know,” Sterk said. “So something happens to players or things that occur, so I think you have to take into account all of those things when you look at, at the end of the season, was this a successful season? I try to do that when I look at it. It’s not just wins and losses. But, yeah, do we want to make postseason? Yes. Do we want to win our division? Yes, we want to do that. But it just depends on how things go.”

Sterk added that Odom took over a program that was “in a state of flux. I think he’s done a really good job of developing the culture of the team and the players and the coaches. So I think that we have an opportunity to have that all come together this year.”

Woo, no pressure there, Barry.  Good thing you brought SOD on board to help.

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I’m shocked, shocked that data collecting is going on here.

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting a scene inside the gold mine:

Every weekend during soccer season in Britain, security personnel find them in stadiums, tapping furiously at their phones or talking nonstop into a mic — mysterious customers often wearing hoodies to conceal earpieces and their identity. While focused with unwavering intensity on the action of the game, they show none of the engagement and excitement of the ordinary fans around them.

The unofficial data scouts — or data thieves, depending on who is describing them — are quickly ejected once they are discovered.

The fleeting data they are collecting — the minutia of what is happening in the game — is the lifeblood of sports betting, perhaps the most crucial and valuable element of the entire industry. If gambling operators are to monetize sports betting fully, they have to offer wagers on far more than the outcomes of games. Data on the second-by-second action — exactly when a goal is scored, where it landed in the net, who had the assist — creates manifold betting opportunities.

In Britain, this so-called in-play betting market is robust. In the United States, it may be the greatest hope for betting operators after the Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on sports betting and as states scramble to accept wagers. That means accurate and reliable data must get to betting operators like casinos, websites and phone apps fast, usually in a second or two — well ahead of the roughly five-to-10-second delay baked into television broadcasts.

“For betting, it’s the difference between having value and having no value at all,” Steven Burton, a veteran lawyer in the rarefied field of collecting, using and protecting sports data, said about the necessity of rapid data distribution.

The sudden premium on sports data is likely to set up an array of conflicts in the betting industry that have been mostly unknown in the United States. Adrian Ford, general manager of Football DataCo, the official handler of data for the English Premier League and others in Britain, said that in dozens of stadiums each weekend, the hooded scouts show up for companies aiming to collect the data and sell it to betting operators without buying rights to the league-approved stream originating in the press box.

“It goes to the heart of this issue, the data debate,” Mr. Ford said. “Clearly the data from the source, a stadium, it’s valuable. Some people believe it’s appropriate to cheat.”

First of all, “a veteran lawyer in the rarefied field of collecting, using and protecting sports data”?  How come I didn’t hear about that in law school?  But I digress.

When you hear value, that means money.  Duh.  If your average university president currently has no clue about rapid sports data distribution today, that’s a condition you can bet your bottom dollar (see what I did there?) that’s a situation every conference commissioner will soon remedy.

That, in turn, is going to make for some interesting choices down the road.  If schools have a proprietary interest in data collection, what steps will they take to clamp down on cheaters?  For one thing, I suspect free stadium Wi-Fi will become perceived as a bug, not a feature.  Too bad for those who choose to use it innocently; it’s for the greater good, you know.

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Roll ‘dem bones

Well, now.  This didn’t take long.

The Big Ten has asked the NCAA to consider developing a national college football injury reporting system in reaction to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows states to legalize sports gambling.

The conference’s athletic directors proposed to the NCAA Football Oversight Committee in June what would be a first-ever weekly national injury reporting mandate. The ADs claim an injury report is necessary to protect the integrity of the sport.

Such a move would alter one of the most ingrained and long-standing traditions in college football — coaches concealing injuries. From the earliest days of the sport, the decision to release of such information has typically been made by the coaches themselves, sometimes flying in the face of fair play and transparency.

With the cross-country growth of sports betting in its infancy, it is becoming imperative that injury information be accurate and widely available.

“We have to be more transparent,” Ohio State AD Gene Smith said during a National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics panel last week. “In football, we’re going to kill this [idea of] gamesmanship around injuries.”

Remember, boys and girls, that proud conference member Rutgers just happens to be located in the same state that won the sport book litigation.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Concern about making sure future revenues from gambling roll in unimpeded?  Well, I will let you be the judge of that.

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Filed under Big Ten Football, It's Just Bidness, The Body Is A Temple, The NCAA

“Where does it end?”

The latest USA Today report on college athletic departments’ finances, for the 2016-7 fiscal year, has emerged.  Good news for Georgia:  it’s one of seven D-1 schools with revenues exceeding $150 million, something I expect to continue with a bang in the next fiscal cycle. Even better, it ranks nineteenth in expenses, which means it turned close to a $40 million profit even after transferring $4,500,000 back to the school.

Before some of you go there, I have no problem with turning a large profit, as long as the money is spent wisely in the pursuit of excellence.  (Well, other than charging student fees when your profit margin exceeds 25%, that is.)  But it also means that I do think whining about the sanctity of the reserve fund in times like these as a defense to implementing a master plan for athletic facilities is weak beer.

It’s not the worst thing in the world, of course.  This is worse.

A few weeks before the football season last August, a Washington State University vice president sent an urgent message to the athletic director.

The topic was deficit spending in the athletic department, which had ballooned to a cumulative debt to the university of $67 million…

The messages were obtained by USA TODAY Sports as part of a public-records request and are part of an ongoing financial drama that has unfolded in some parts of major college sports – not just at Washington State, but at other schools that might be described as the underclass of the upper class. Besides WSU, these include the University of California and other Power 5 conference institutions that have dug their own holes and struggled to avoid getting buried in them.

They are not broke. They simply overspent their means by tens of millions as they tried to keep up with their richer rivals in coaches’ pay and opulent facilities. And though such pressure to compete is nothing new, their deficit spending and subsidies have accelerated to unprecedented heights since 2011, even as their collective revenues have shot up by nearly 50% since then, largely because of lucrative television and media contracts.

Their problem is a bit of a paradox.

Not really.  But it does much to explain the current state of whoredom that characterizes college sports.

These schools make more money than ever. Since they began emerging from the Great Recession in fiscal year 2011, their combined revenue has rocketed from $5.6 billion to $8.3 billion in 2017, not adjusted for inflation. That’s according to data for the 108 public schools tracked by USA TODAY Sports in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), in partnership with Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Yet instead of being financially relieved by this revenue boom, 18 of them burned through it and still posted annual deficits of more than $1 million in fiscal year 2017, compared to seven at that level in 2011. WSU athletics has run deficits for seven straight years, drawing scrutiny from state legislators.

They don’t know how to spend wisely; they only know that they believe they have to spend, and spend blindly, to be competitive.

And the department deficit problem he inherited is projected to be even worse than those e-mails described last year – $85 million in debt to the university by 2023. That debt was rung up largely because of spending increases in coaching pay and facilities for football – namely $130 million to renovate the football stadium and build a five-story football headquarters.

“He took this place out of the stone ages,” Chun said of Moos and the spending he pushed to modernize Cougar athletics.

Moos said “everybody was fully aware” of the debt WSU was taking on with these investments at the time, including the state legislature and WSU regents. “It’s like somebody woke up in the middle of the night and said ‘I’m shocked. I’m shocked that we have a deficit,’ ” Moos told USA TODAY Sports. If WSU hadn’t invested like this, he said the Cougars “would have been left in the dust.”

Thinking like this is why I chuckled the other day when a commenter defended McGarity by saying he acts just like every other college AD.  Dude, that’s not a compliment.

There’s only one cure for their illness and that’s more cowbell money — from the students…

WSU even hopes to convince students to approve a fee increase to fund athletics, up from the current $25 per student per semester to fund its football stadium renovation.

… the fan base and from, most importantly, television.  Even if and when they get it, though, it won’t stop an arms race that most schools can’t afford.  The trend, if anything, is accelerating away from them.

– What kind of growth do this year’s figures reflect? Not adjusting for inflation, consider the following table showing the number of schools at certain benchmark figures over time:

Total expense    $80 million+  $100 million+  $120 million+  $140 million+

    2017                        51                32                    17                    7

    2012                        25                10                      2                    0

    2007                          5                  1                      0                    0

Total revenue    $80 million+  $100 million+  $120 million+  $140 million+

    2017                        51                31                     23                  15

    2012                        28                13                      5                    3

    2007                          9                  3                      0                    0

– The gap between the top revenue total and the bottom revenue total has opened wider than ever.

In 2017, Texas had the greatest at $214.8 million, Alabama A&M the lowest at $3.3 million.

In 2012, Texas had the greatest at $163.3 million, New Orleans the lowest at $3.1 million.

In 2007, Ohio State had the greatest at $109.4 million, Coppin State the lowest at $2 million.

There’s never enough.  There never will be enough.

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You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Andy Staples tells us that Jimbo Fisher’s decision to leave FSU for Texas A&M was the result of an odd dichotomy.

Fisher wanted more upgrades, and Florida State’s odd organizational structure had begun causing friction. At most schools, the booster club is under the control of the athletic department. Even if the club is a limited liability corporation separate from the school or the athletic department, the athletic director ultimately decides how funds raised by the booster club are used. That isn’t the case at Florida State, where Seminole Boosters, Inc. CEO Andy Miller wields more power than athletic director Stan Wilcox. Fisher’s priority was a dedicated football operations building that would move the Seminoles’ day-to-day operations out of Doak Campbell Stadium, where student classrooms and player meeting rooms share hallways. That wasn’t Seminole Boosters’ priority, though. Fisher wanted to make his operation more efficient, while the booster club wanted to address the gameday experience for the fans who fund the booster club. So instead of starting work on a football building—something new Seminoles coach Willie Taggart likely will get in the coming years—$80 million went toward renovating the stadium. By the start of the 2016 season, Florida State had added a huge new video board, ripped out bleacher seats and replaced them with chairbacks and added premium areas in the south end zone.

Jimbo, of course, is another proud adherent of the Process, which makes me wonder if, between this story and what we’ve watched unfold at Butts-Mehre since Kirby came to town, that’s the choice presented to a school that chooses to bind itself to a Saban acolyte — spend on what the coach believes is best for the program, or spend on fan experience.  What I can’t figure out is why schools like these can’t make the effort to appeal to both.  It’s not like they can’t afford it.

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