MAILBAG! Conference realignment, Alston Awards, and "What Is a Mid-Major?"
A few more reader questions before we head into the holiday
Good morning, and thanks for your continued support of Extra Points.
Like everybody else, we’re taking a day or two off this week to celebrate the 4th of July. But before we get to the eating of encased meats, enjoying fireworks displays (legally sanctioned and otherwise), and celebrating freedom, let me answer a few of your mailbag questions.
I do mailbags whenever I have enough good questions. You can email me a question ([email protected]), tweet me (@MattBrownEP), or…because Twitter is increasingly busted all the time, hit me up on BlueSky at @MattBrown. That’s right, other Matts Brown. I got this one FIRST.
Anyway, speaking of Twitter,
How will the change(s) to Twitter impact sports reporting & how university athletic departments utilize the medium, social media?
— Katfans.com (@KatFansDotCom)
Jul 2, 2023
I dug into this a little bit back in November, the first time it looked like the platform was going to collapse under the weight of unpaid bills and servers held together with duct tape and prayer. Many of those observations, I believe, remain true.
Twitter isn’t typically the main source of raw traffic for athletic departments…that’s still Facebook, Google, and other networks. Twitter also isn’t the best way for schools to reach their youngest audiences…that’s Instagram and Tiktok, (although Tiktok is also fraught for uh, different reasons).
Twitter is still very important though. It’s the easiest way to currently share social videos with a large audience, so many departments use it for sharing highlights or distributing videos that their broadcast partners can’t. It’s still heavily used by coaches for contacting recruits. It’s heavily used by schools to contact journalists and expand the reach of their PR efforts. And it’s a more conversational platform for brands than Facebook, Google, or Instagram.
In my opinion, major social media platform instability is worse for individual publishers and writers (people like me), and for consumers, than it is for college athletic departments…but everybody needs to have backup plans. If you’re a comms person reading this, go snap up some profiles on BlueSky…just in case.
BlueSky user Lance asks:
This is a great question and one that I know many admins get very passionate about. I’ve been told, for example, that there are leaders in the A-10, Missouri Valley, and Sun Belt who really don’t like the label ‘mid-major’, even though I think a majority of casual fans would think that’s a fair term for those schools.
The context also matters too. I don’t think anybody should use “P5” or “Major” in the context of college baseball, for example, where the Sun Belt is flat-out better than the Big Ten, and where facilities and internal investment at some Big West and Conference USA schools outstrips that in the Big Ten.
In my head, I think of “low-major” schools that operate out of conferences that will virtually always be single-bid leagues in their respective sport….the kinds of schools that operate with the smallest budgets. I personally consider “mid-majors” to be schools without massive broadcast contracts, but whose leagues expect to at least compete for multiple postseason bids.
So as an example, I’d consider most schools in the A-10, MVC, MWC, AAC, CUSA, Sun Belt, MAC, WAC, and WCC to be mid-majors in men’s and women’s basketball. If you want to holler at me about where I draw the line, that’s completely fine.
If you don’t like the term “Mid-Major’ and ‘Low-Major’, I totally understand…but I do think it is helpful to have another term to differentiate between institutions that do not have $80 million TV contracts. Like, I’ve been to Grand Canyon, and I’ve been to Sacred Heart…and I do not think it would be fair to insinuate that the basketball programs are playing with the same resources and expectations, just because neither school is in the ACC, you know? There are degrees to this business.
If you have a better definition, by all means, share it in the comments.
Bluesky User Cam asks:
I almost always have more story ideas than I have the time, expertise, or resources to handle. A few that I’d love to write someday would be,
American Catholicism looks very different in 2023 than it did in say, 1955. How has Notre Dame’s relationship with Catholic fans or Catholic institutions changed in a world where not as many people go to Parochial schools, where the racial and cultural makeup of many parishes is different, and where American feelings about other Catholic institutions have shifted? What does it mean to be the “Catholic Team” in 2023? Is that even possible? When and how did it change, and what does that mean for Notre Dame moving forward?
A history of the MVP NCAA Baseball video game series for the Xbox and PlayStation 2. Why were these games created? What kind of licensing revenue did they send back to the schools? Why were they shut down? How did the behind-the-scenes effort for those games differ from the basketball and football games?
More University Archives stories. I LOVE that stuff, but these requests are expensive, never tied to the news cycle…and will probably require me to travel to more university libraries.
A brief and incomplete history of the athletic apparel industry. When did shoe companies start paying schools for exclusive deals, why did some companies enter and leave the marketplace, and how did that market evolve to be so different from apparel markets in professional basketball, soccer, and track? I’ve been kicking at this for a few months now, but it’ll probably have to go in the book.
Twitter user Dan asks:
At what point will conference realignment and NIL make it almost impossible for the low-level FBS independents like UMass to exist? Seems like a purgatory that will expire in the changing climate…
— Dan Carroll (@clesports44)
Jul 2, 2023
So, my Terrible For Sports Radio answer is…it depends. It depends entirely on what the program wants.
If success for UMass, or any other modestly-funded FBS program, is to ‘compete for national titles’, then friends, that ship has already sailed. It became impossible for programs like UMass to hit that benchmark in like 1987.
If the benchmark is “compete for bowls, play teams that our fans care about, and create a meaningful event for our alumni, fans, and athletes”, then I actually think that is still attainable at the FBS level, even for independents. I went to UMass once, talked to their fans and their AD, and wrote about that concept here.
I’m sure UConn and UMass would love to be in conferences…but since they’re not really trying to make the College Football Playoff or get rich off this FB business, they can still achieve their major program goals as an independently. If fans can easily find their games on TV, if they’re playing against regional or interesting opponents, and if the games are fun, they’ll be okay.
I don’t think NIL really changes that trajectory. A formalized employment model for athletes could, but anything that would impact UMass would certainly impact schools like Utah State or Arkansas State, or Kent State, even with conference affiliation.
Here’s an email from Extra Points reader Eric:
When you talk about academic bonuses, I’m assuming you’re talking about Alston money or academic-related financial awards. Currently, I believe schools can offer to distribute up to $5,980 annually, although most schools don’t just hand out six thousand dollar checks to every single athlete in the department.
Lots of schools currently don’t pay out Alston awards at all, and the majority of the ones that do are schools with huge broadcast contracts, like SEC institutions.
If the goal was simply to distribute the most amount of money to athletes, I’d agree that funding the Alston awards would give more people more money than any mid-major NIL collective could.
But that’s very expensive. Giving the full Alston money to just men’s and women’s basketball players is going to cost a school around $150,000. Giving it to an entire department would easily cost more than a million bucks. Setting up a NIL collective may take time and effort from a thinly-resourced mid-major department, but it won’t actually cost them any money. It will be boosters, businesses, and donors that pay the athletes, not the school.
Of course, recruiting is messy, and not every 17-year-old is going to understand that their Cost of Attendance and Alston awards will lead to more cash than they’re going to get from NIL collectives almost anywhere else. They, and their parents, want to know that you’re serious about NIL, which means that there is enormous pressure to spin up a collective, sign a consulting contract you don’t really need, and more, just to show that you’re serious.
I legitimately think that most of the NIL Industrial Complex is going away in three-ish years after we move to a more professionalized system, but my mortgage doesn’t depend on me being right about that or on winning a specific recruiting battle, so I understand why schools have to make different decisions.
And finally, a bonus question from reader Rey about conference realignment:
I'm going to experiment with something here, and leave this question for our readers who have at least one referral, or who pay for Extra Points, which you can do, right here:
You can refer users to Extra Points and earn rewards and bonus content right here:
I’ll go to go work on Athletic Director Simulator 3000 a little more….and I’ll share more updates by the end of the week. Enjoy the 4th, everyone.
If you have ideas for future Extra Points newsletters or #tips you want to share, our new tips line is [email protected]. To sponsor a future Extra Points newsletter, please email [email protected]. I'm also @MattBrownEP on Twitter, @MattBrown on BlueSky, and @ExtraPointsMB on Instagram