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Pac-12 punts on brunch kickoffs....this year

Good morning! I’ve got one last mailbag slot left for Friday’s newsletter, so if you’ve got a question about college football business, history, or hell, anything at all really, tweet it to me at @MattSBN or email it at [email protected]. I’m interested if any of you like these more frequent newsletters too…it’s a bit hard to tell from the data.

Let’s get after it.

No early kickoffs for the Pac-12….in 2019

The Pac-12 floated the idea of doing a few early kickoffs, either 9 or 10 AM local, so they could get a few games into that noon EST time slot, and ideally, remove them from the late-night slot. Pac-12 After Dark is fun for Twitter and for ESPN executives, but less great for fans who’d like to drive home before 3 AM, or Pac-12 fans who live east of the Mississippi river.

The conference has opted against scheduling games this season at 9 a.m. PT/10 a.m. MT as a means of gaining exposure on the new FOX broadcast window.

Andrew Walker, head of communications for the Pac-12, said several schools are interested in playing early, but the conference couldn’t find “good options” over the coming three months.

The idea of early kickoffs was mocked by most corners of college football internet, but not everybody hated it. Coaches at UCLA, Utah and Colorado didn’t dismiss it out of hand, and some analysts, like Wilner, also endorsed the idea.

Even if you think it’s a good plan, I just don’t see any way doing it in 2019, on such short notice, would have been practical. Schools would need time to make logistical tweaks, coaches would need to revamp their schedules, and the league would need to be very careful that they weren’t accidentally making things worse for the actual football teams, something their scheduling department has done over the last few years. Nobody wants to draw the 9 AM local game the week after playing 900 miles from campus, or coming off a short week, for example.

I imagine this will happen eventually. Doing it in Utah or Colorado, where you can kick at 10 AM local to hit the noon slot, could potentially substantially increase Pac-12 television exposure without dramatically crippling local atmosphere.

I still don’t like the idea. I think schools, especially schools in the Pac-12 that generally don’t have enormous fanbases that are quite as devout as their peers in the midwest or south, should prioritize creating an excellent on-campus experience, even if that dings TV exposure a little bit. But if the schools want to do it, and it doesn’t hurt the kids, experimenting a few times in 2020 may not be the worst thing in the world.

Of course, this means the odds that the Pac-12 accidentally knocks out a playoff contender by making them play in Salt Lake at 10 AM are roughly 100%. But that’s just how these things go.

Schools bravely refuse to pay out cost of attendance…until they do

Back in 2015, after the O’Bannon case, Power Five schools voted to allow themselves to pay out cash Cost of Attendance benefits, in addition to what athletes typically got for their scholarships. Everybody was on board but Boston College, who voted against the idea out of principle, but even the Eagles started cutting the checks.

At first, some commentators were afraid that this would even more dramatically widen the gap between the P5 “haves” and the G5 “have nots”. How could the poorest schools pay out even more cash benefits? Surely they were broke, no?

Well, by 2016, everybody but four Sun Belt schools and one Conference-USA school started paying out COA. And soon, even schools that didn’t sponsor FBS football, schools with very modestly sized athletic departments, started paying out COA, at least on some level. By 2017, over 260 D1 institutions said they had adopted COA payments.

A few schools, like James Madison and Elon, loudly protested. But as economist Andy Schwarz noted, lol, they paid up anyway.

But Elon stood firm.  Mere economic pressure cannot sway a school if it’s committed to the principle of amateurism, and is standing firm against “a more professional model towards individual compensation” and intent on “administering our institution’s athletic programs in ways that are consistent with our mission, culture and values,” right?


As anyone who believes in the power of markets as a lie detector might have predicted, competition got the better of Elon’s claims of principled opposition.  Last month, Elon announced that it too had begun paying its athletes full COA:

“In what registers as the calling of a considerable audible, Elon is changing course on the cost of attendance stipends that are permitted by the NCAA and will pay those allowances to its athletes, beginning with men’s and women’s basketball players…. Men’s and women’s basketball players will start receiving cost of attendance during the approaching 2019-20 school year, as Elon embarks on a phasing-in process across its 17 sports teams. By 2022-23, athletics director Dave Blank said the Phoenix plans to have the stipends implemented for all of its scholarship athletes.”Elon’s reasoning?   Doing well in basketball (and other sports over time) is apparently more important to them than “administering our institution’s athletic programs in ways that are consistent with our mission, culture and values.”  Or maybe a better way to say it is that the “mission, culture and values” of Elon is more about avoiding “competitive disadvantage in recruiting in our region and our conference” than it is about refusing to pay the going rate for top talent.

In other words, money talks and bullshit walks.

As I’ve mentioned in several of the last newsletters, figuring out what programs can really afford what is very difficult! And it is probable that some of the dozens of schools that elected not to provide COA, like some HBCUs, simply cannot afford it. But when faced with the idea of suffering a competitive disadvantage, schools that beat their chests and proclaimed NO, NEVER…may very well find themselves quietly cutting the next round of checks.

This story reminded me of something I read on CBS last year, where Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick mused that increases in player compensation could lead to another round of conference realignment.

"It would be fascinating," Swarbrick told CBS Sports. "It would be a disaster … but fascinating. I think there is a very significant chance that ruling would produce a new wave of conference realignment."

Using Swarbrick's suggestion, if the Alston plaintiffs win, conferences could reorganize around like-minded schools with the same spending philosophy toward athletes if scholarship restrictions go away.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this argument resurface, especially as the discussion around amateurism and player compensation heats up after the season.

It’s one thing to claim poverty, or claim that the latest reform is simply a bridge too far. But in 150 years of college football history, there are precious few examples of any school actually deciding, “actually, this is too much, we’re out.” For every Chicago, or Penn, there are dozens and dozens more schools that crunch the numbers and decide, actually, they’d prefer to keep 55,000 fans screaming on campus, thank you very much.

Probably worth keeping in mind the next time an administrator hollers about poverty or principle. I think Schwarz is onto something.

Money talks. And bullshit walks.

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