From payouts to protests, college athletes sure have power
Plus, college football is *probably* not ruining your university.
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Rather than one big ol’ missive about Rutgers, I have a bunch of other stories I’d like to hit today. Let’s skip the intro, and get right to it
NIL rights mean even women athletes should be getting paid
I wrote a story for SBNation.com that dropped Tuesday morning on the potential likeness marketplace for elite college women athletes. I talked to two experts, and am interested in continuing to talk to folks involved in this space (academics, economists, lawyers, business owners, athletes, etc).
Predicting exact outcomes is really hard. After all, nobody knows exactly what the rules and regulations of the marketplace will be. Will they mostly resemble what SB 206 laid out? Will there be a more restrictive federal legislation? What with the NCAA propose? The devil really is in the details, and restrictive regulations could really limit endorsement opportunities, especially with national brands.
But one constant that I’ve heard from anybody I’ve talked to, and just about everybody I’ve read, is that the likeness rights for a whole lot of folks, and not just elite football and men’s basketball players, is > 0.
These interviews also really hammered home the idea that one’s marketability has a lot to do with stuff beyond how good at sports you are. An athlete who is just okay, or plays a less visible sport, but has a huge Youtube or Instagram following, could make thousands of dollars a month just from that account. It will be important for schools to really educate athletes on how this world works, and how they can get the most out of it, financially. Given how quickly social media moves, I’m not sure a lot of schools even have the capacity to do that very well in their marketing departments. I bet we’ll see a lot of new hires.
Speaking of athletes having power…remember Missouri?
Buzzfeed checks back in on Missouri
We saw one of the biggest displays of college athlete activism at Missouri four years ago, when members of the football team joined campus protests and threatened to not play unless the president of the university stepped down, which he did. The fraught racial history at Missouri, and the sometimes challenging experience of black students and athletes at PWIs was thrust into the national spotlight.
That was four years ago. Many of the student leaders involved with those protests, athletes and non-athletes, have graduated. Buzzfeed asked students how things have changed. I can’t summarize this entire story in two glib paragraphs, so I encourage you to give the whole thing a read.
But it’s also clear that some problems have persisted at the school. While the administration has created a new office of diversity and inclusion, and enrollment is again on the rise, the university is still struggling to increase faculty diversity and to retain black professors. In late October, the Mizzou Athletics department was in the news again for a since-deleted tweet implying that black student athletes aren’t as ambitious as their white teammates. Additionally, two students I talked to said they’d recently been called racial slurs on campus and had filed formal complaints that they say didn’t result in any meaningful action from the administration.
But the students I interviewed also made it clear how much they love this school. “We wouldn’t critique Mizzou if we didn’t love Mizzou,” said Teanna Bass, who was active in protests her first year and graduated in May. “It’s an accountability thing.”
Protests involving college athletics aren’t new in the history of the sport. 42 kids were charged after a protest during the Harvard/Yale game just last weekend, after all, and students protested on the field at Eastern Michigan just a few years ago. But protests involving the athletes themselves are a little less common. But because athletes have power and influence, when they speak, and especially when they act in a way that threatens the status quo of a football game (sup, Black 14), people notice and listen.
I’m not a conservative newspaper opinion columnist, so I’m not going to sit here and freak out over students protesting on a college campus. These protests will sometimes happen in ways we don’t like or approve of, sometimes they will be messy, and sometimes they will be over stuff that we think is silly or wrongheaded. Sometimes we’ll even be right about our critiques. You probably believed some stuff as a college kid that you don’t believe now. I know I did.
But I do think it’s worth listening to them, especially when many of these protests are about racism. Racism still exists, folks, even that public, garish, n-word-saying racism that some of us like to think we defeated years go. Just ask Syracuse. And if students don’t feel like those fears and concerns are being respected and addressed, they’ll find ways to force people to listen.
No, college football probably isn’t ruining your university
I saw this story, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, make the rounds on social media yesterday. I think variations of this argument are not unfamiliar to Extra Points readers:
Those high-profile success stories notwithstanding, the brutal fact is that only an elite group of universities actually profit from their athletic programs. Yet many are nevertheless betting their futures on football not despite funding cuts imposed by their state legislatures but because of them. Rather than falling over one another for star scholars, universities do that for star coaches. Houston’s Holgorsen is not the only one to benefit from an astronomical pay raise; midlevel universities like Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic have also doubled the salaries of incoming coaches.
I think the broad critique that there are low and mid-level schools that are spending too much on their football (or basketball) programs is accurate. The idea that a successful athletic program could be the “front porch” of the university, is not new. I think that goes all the way back to William Rainey Harper’s Chicago near the turn of the 20th century. The so-called ‘Flutie Effect’, which states that athletic success can lead to increased donations and improved applicant quality, has been measured at multiple universities. It is a thing!
But it’s fair to question the wisdom of so many schools chasing a dream that they’re unlikely to achieve. The author uses Houston as an example, (that’s where he teaches), but I’m not sure that’s the best one, since Houston has won a prestigious bowl in recent memory and could certainly make a New Year’s Six bowl again. I’m thinking more of the San Jose States, the Ball States, the true hopeless causes of college football.
After all, what sort of front porch marketing are you providing if your team is perpetually awful? Is Akron really benefiting from the brand awareness of their 0-12 football team?
But saying only X number of teams are profitable is where you run into trouble. And it’s an easy mistake. I’ve made it before too.
Athletic department accounting is pretty complicated, especially when you don’t have the original documents. What looks like “university subsidy” on the USA TODAY database might not exactly be “the English department cut a check to the football team”, and what shows up as an athletic department expense might not even be a real expense. Remember, these are technically non-profit entities. If not many of them are showing a profit, it’s because well, that isn’t the point.
Earlier, I wrote about why this principle is why you should be skeptical when an athletic department says they’re broke. But it’s also why I don’t think you can always draw a straight line from “the athletic department budget is X, and that’s why nobody here can get tenure.”
I don’t blame an academic for thinking this way, especially at a cash-strapped university. But while I think it is fair, healthy and appropriate to ask schools to defend and regularly re-evaluate athletic spending, if you’re looking for a place to point a finger, it’s probably at your statehouse, not your football coach.
UConn’s AD says other schools are considering going independent
Now, UConn’s AD confirms that other folks are at least thinking about it. Via the SBJ College Newsletter ($)
Three of UConn’s 2020 opponents -- UMass, Liberty and Army -- are also FBS independents. Benedict said other schools -- which he wouldn’t name -- have inquired about going independent. Benedict attended a meeting of independents and some conference members last summer to talk about making such a move. “They were looking at different options for the same reason that we did,” Benedict said. “This is becoming something that more and more people are thinking about.
I don’t know who those schools are (if you do, you should reach out to me), but I might have a guess as to who might be interested.
Like I wrote before, schools like UConn, programs that have a ready-made regional home for their other sports, and TV options, are not that common. But since the TV payouts for the MAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt or even maybe the Mountain West aren’t great, it’s possible a school could decide taking a rights fee haircut is worth having more control over TV times and scheduling.
I guessed Air Force and UTEP might be programs potentially interested in such a move. Both schools could potentially play easier schedules, add in an extra buy game or two, and play a more regionally-focused schedule to save money. I could see a world where a Hawaii, who already has their other sports in the Big West and has their own TV deal, might be interested. But I’m struggling to think of too many others, on paper, that would come out ahead right now.
It’s an interesting situation worth monitoring. If you already know you’re not going to play in a big bowl game, maybe finding a way to schedule mostly bus trip road games becomes more appealing than conference membership. Maybe it’s wishful thinking from schools like UConn and UMass that would certainly benefit from more schools joining them.
We’ve been moving away from independence over the last 30 years. Maybe it’s time for a course correction. After all, readers of this newsletter know, nothing is every really new in college football. We’ve had almost every argument before.
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