Loren Tate: Time for Big Ten to pay up

Loren Tate: Time for Big Ten to pay up

Let’s put the numbers into perspective.

First, of 85 permissible scholarships handed out by Illini football coach Tim Beckman next fall, about 60 will go to athletes from beyond the Illinois boundaries (failure of in-state recruiting is another story).

Each out-of-state scholarship, paid by the athletic department to the university, will run between $44,000 and $49,000, depending on the tuition of the college of choice. Taking a midpoint of $46,000, that comes to $2.76 million ... just for non-Illinoisans playing football here this coming season.

So, if the Power 5 conferences, with Jim Delany and the Big Ten in a leadership role, settle on a stipend of $2,000 or $3,000, that is a nice bonus geared to quiet those who claim some athletes might be going hungry (as expressed by UConn basketball star Shabazz Napier).

For the select universities wallowing in big bucks, it is well within future budgets. As example, 500 athletes receiving $2,000 amounts to $1 million, which is below projected increases in annual broadcast revenue. And $2,000 for a student-athlete averages out to a mere $166 per month (it should be pointed out that players receive a static room-and-board amount and, by sharing apartments, can save some rent money for other uses).

Feeding frenzy

Meanwhile, after months of debate, the NCAA Legislative Council approved a change that will allow student-athletes, including walk-ons, to receive unlimited meals and snacks. This will be voted on by the Division I Board of Directors on Thursday, one day before Northwestern football players vote whether to approve a union.

The meal change is just one of several key adjustments that the large NCAA schools have been pushing against resistant (and less wealthy) smaller schools.

Some critics will see these inevitable moves as inspired by and as a reaction to the Northwestern union fuss. Maybe so, but these magnitude-8 ground shakers have been in the works for years ... ever since the major conferences became frustrated with their inability to pass legislation that the smaller conferences rebuffed.

Just as lightning precedes thunder, the meal deal is a forerunner to the big ones coming down the chute. It is unconscionable to have so much money pouring in from broadcast rights and not settle on a stipend amount and long-term insurance coverage for athletic injuries.

The debate probably will center around how to pay those athletes on partial scholarships.

Northwestern’s union push, which could be sidetracked by Friday’s vote, may be seen as speeding up the NCAA process, but changes were coming nonetheless.

Money talks

Win and they will come ... bearing gifts.

As noted earlier, Illinois receives $1 million in free product and more than $300,000 annually from Nike. Imagine what it would be if the Illini had been winning more football and basketball games.

Illinois is a piker compared to elite programs whose on-field success has drawn huge brand agreements with apparel companies in a tug-of-war to attract powerhouse brands.

For example, Under Armour has a 10-year, $90 million deal with Notre Dame. And adidas, having lost Notre Dame and Tennessee, is giving Michigan $82 million over 10 years and has extended its long relationship with Louisville to the tune of $40 million over five years.

The Louisville story is one of remarkable success stemming in great part from the school’s willingness to play midweek football TV games when others declined. At the same time, AD Tom Jurich (arrived in 1997, contract through 2023) developed an overall sports brand so strong that a prestigious basketball conference, the ACC, is adding the Cardinals on July 1.

It would have been difficult to imagine a decade ago that Louisville could athletically surpass so many state institutions (like Illinois) with across-the-board success.

Cardinal sports merchandise income has tripled since 2001 as they (1) won 50 league and tournament titles in two conferences since 2005, (2) reached basketball’s Final Four in 2012 and won the crown in 2013, (3) went 30-4 in advancing to the women’s Final Four, (4) beat Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl and finished 11-2 and 12-1 the past two seasons, (5) reached baseball’s World Series in 2007 and 2013 and (6) repeatedly produced NCAA qualifiers in volleyball.

As noted, win and they will come ... bearing gifts.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

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