Tate: Balance and dollars don't mix
If they say it’s not about the money, explain these numbers:
—$11 billion: The 14-year NCAA tournament TV deal with CBS and Turner Broadcasting.
— $470 million: ESPN’s per-year contract for the new four-team NCAA football playoff.
— $311 million: What the Power-5 Conferences expect as payouts this year from bowl games and the NCAA tournament. Add in the two regular seasons, and the Power-5 Conferences expect $1.1 billion from their network partners.
— $26.5 million: Big Ten broadcast payout to Illinois for teams that finished 1-7 in football and tied for eighth in basketball, missing the 70-team bowl action and NCAA basketball tournament. That $26.5 million will skyrocket past $40 million within a few years.
Changing the rules
Here’s my question. Since rules in some sports aren’t applicable to others, is sports-specific legislation around the corner? With coaches and athletic departments getting rich via football and basketball players, how long will it be before the athletes in those sports want a bigger piece of the Monopoly pie? How much longer before those two are treated differently than all their nonrevenue brothers and sisters?
You have noticed, haven’t you, who is bringing the court suits, who is calling for a union vote, who is already looking into the carloads of cash and wondering why the universities and coaches get it all. Let’s put it this way: It isn’t the wrestlers or gymnasts.
We’re already seeing a move toward separation with a governance shift for five conferences to dictate terms to the lesser schools.
These five are striving to sprint ahead of the game by providing better financial circumstances for athletes — a stipend as part of the “cost of education,” long-range medical care, insurance opportunities, four-year scholarships, and more and better meals. Sports other than football and basketball are happily riding the coattails.
Critics say this power move will unbalance college competition. Do they mean more than it is already? We’ve long seen a distinct pecking order. Illinois can offer 85 football scholarships, while EIU and Illinois State can offer 63. Illinois could always offer stronger competition, better travel arrangements, greater benefits and a more prestigious diploma than FCS schools. It’s a fact of life.
Title IX concerns
My conclusion is that the new governance setup will relieve building pressures and will work, that big-school athletes deserve more than they’ve been receiving, and competition with the SIUs and ISUs won’t change much.
Is the NCAA perfect? Well, it beats the European style of amateurism. U.S. fans won’t follow club teams.
I see two major problems:
— Blinded by stars in their eyes, too many football and basketball players fail to prepare themselves for life after sports — a misstep that is less true in the nonrevenue sports.
— Because football is played only by men and is so extreme in the numbers needed, it’s impossible to strike a fair balance on scholarships between men and women.
Title IX brought in a wave of female competition, and everything about it is good. But football’s 85 scholarships could be dropped from the equation without hurting well-established women’s sports.
Because football is left in, men’s nonrevenue sports have suffered. Many landed on the cutting table to make room for women’s sports.
Illinois dropped men’s swimming and fencing as a result. Wisconsin let baseball go while favoring women’s lightweight rowing. A steady drain has seen men’s gymnastics fall to 17 Division I teams, and wrestling has been reduced from 111 teams in 1990 to fewer than 80. Men’s tennis also has taken a hit as universities seek to balance the sexes. Men’s basketball, which brings in millions, is allowed 13 scholarships, while women’s basketball has 15.
It is impossible to do it fairly with football in the mix, and it wouldn’t be unfair to women to pull it out. Common sense simply isn’t employed in this case. After all, if it wasn’t for football revenue, the women and most Olympic sports would have difficulty finding the financial support to field teams, not to mention all those extravagant excursions to warmer climates.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.