Shut up about the playoff already
Plus updates on the Pac-12 Network, tax implications for athlete payments, and more!
Good morning! Thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points. Before we dig into the off the field news, there’s something I want to preach about.
In my humble opinion, every college football weekend is good, but some are gooder than others. Last weekend was absolutely one of the gooder ones.
There was plenty to love, from my alma mater smashing Maryland by a gazillion points, to Minnesota’s epic last minute stand to pull off perhaps their biggest regular season in my lifetime, to Oklahoma’s scare against Iowa State, to Baylor’s unlikely comeback to remain undefeated, to Boise’s overtime win over a plucky Wyoming. And that’s missing a half dozen other interesting games.
But the headliner, LSU at Alabama, lorded over everything, and unlike most GAME OF THE CENTURY type matchups, it lived up to the billing. The president showed up, and other than long lines and some angry fan slashing the Trump balloon thing, things went pretty smoothly. Then we all got to watch one of the most exciting, high-level football games of the season, where an LSU team rode a transcendent performance from perhaps their best quarterback ever, to finally beat an Alabama squad that has tormented them for a decade. It was an emotional roller coaster of a game full of elite highlights, memorable performances, and a jubilant Coach O, complete with his uh, colorful postgame comments.
What I’m trying to say here, is that game was awesome. If this was a different kind of newsletter, I’d happily spend another 1,500 words on it.
But the national conversation, from broadcast television to Twitter to larger media outlets to sports radio stations across the country immediately switched to the playoff implications. Is Alabama in, or out?!?!?
And man. I think that really sucks!
I mean, I get why this happens. If you’re trying to reach the broadest possible audience, you talk about the biggest players, and the biggest event, which is the postseason. Not everybody follows the college football fan ethos that I, and my colleagues, espouse…the idea of eating the whole hog college football fandom, not just the Alabama and Ohio State parts.
But man, we’ve still got 25% of the regular season left! It sucks to spend even more oxygen on naked political posturing or rehashing the same four dumb arguments, especially with limited sample sizes.
I actually think the playoff has been a net positive for the sport as a whole, and I hope it eventually expands. But every year, I think I understand and empathize the positions of those who dislike the entire system more and more. I’ve been thinking about this story I helped edit at Crimson and Cream Machine, before the season started…
Yet, some of the best stories in college football history have played out outside the national championship race. Take Northwestern’s 1995 run to the Rose Bowl, for instance. Today, it would spawn innumerable segments on “College Football Live” discussing the Wildcats’ worthiness of a spot in the playoff with a loss to Miami (Ohio) on their resume. Countless callers would be dialing up the “Paul Finebaum Show” to moan about the strength of NU’s conference schedule. Columnists would be asking if the rise of a non-name brand was bad for the Big Ten’s playoff hopes.
That’s what happens when you build your sport around its postseason. When the little things matter less, the sport gets less enjoyable for everyone.
He’s right! That is exactly what would have happened!
I doubt anybody who reads this newsletter needs reminding, but let me throw this out there anyway. The playoff is still going to be there. We can fight about it in a few weeks. But there’s an awful lot of interesting things going on in this sport outside of that conversation, and if we let it suck up all the air, it cheapens the entire product and spectacle.
A really good game just happened. I bet we’ll get some more this weekend. Let’s try to enjoy those.
Okay, off the soapbox. Let’s get to some other interesting things to talk about
What’s going to happen when players get paid and then have to pay taxes?
In my humble opinion, many of the arguments against college athlete compensation are either not in good faith, or especially compelling. But one that is worth unpacking at least a little bit, in my opinion, is the tax angle.
Unlike the rest of college sports Twitter, I’m not a lawyer OR an accountant. But luckily, some Extra Points readers are. Katie Davis, a CPA and leader of the Collegiate Athletics Services division at James Moore, wrote what I thought was a fair and interesting look at how all this stuff might impact an athlete in the real world:
Under current tax law, individuals receiving income from any arrangement involving use of their name, image or likeness must report that compensation as income on their personal federal tax returns. This includes not only cash but also the fair market value of items or services received. For example, an athlete given use of a car for one year from a local dealership for appearing in their commercials must report the value of that usage as income.
As with any other taxpayer, a return must be filed if the athlete makes at least $400 of self-employment earnings in the tax year. The standard deduction ($12,200 in 2019) also applies, so athletes earning less than that amount will not owe federal income tax. However, self-employment tax is still on the table— an additional 15.3% tax on top of the income tax. This applies even if the athlete doesn’t owe federal income tax.
It’s important that young student-athletes understand their tax responsibilities. If an athlete receives a car or other non-cash benefit, I worry that he or she will be shocked when a 1099 arrives months later and there is no cash to cover the taxes,” said Katie Davis. “Not to mention that taxpayers can’t come up with receipts to support deductions after the fact. So athletes need to be proactively educated on appropriate financial practices such as recordkeeping.”
I don’t think BUT THEN THEY’LL HAVE TO PAY TAXES is an argument to NOT pay anybody. I think if my boss said “well Matt, if we paid you, you’d have to pay taxes,” I would not find that argument particularly persuasive. Unless Senator Burr gets his way (and he won’t), taxation on NIL related income will not mean students suddenly have to pay taxes on the value of their scholarships.
But the education component here is key. While I suspect most athletes who would earn NIL related income would make less than the $12,200 standard deduction a year, the calculation of non-cash benefits and state taxes could leave kids with some nasty surprises at the end of the year if they aren’t careful.
Luckily, you know who usually employs a ton of experts on tax policy? Universities! Good athletic departments make a lot of real world programming part of the services they provide athletes, from resume help, to political discussions. If the status quo changes at all, it will be critical for schools to offer some sort of advice or information on how to evaluate potential opportunities, and plan for Uncle Sam.
Armed with the right knowledge and information, everybody should be fine. But if one kid gets stuck with a tax bill for that car he got to use, the NCAA is not going to shut up about it.
No distribution calvary is coming for the Pac-12 Network
I live in Chicago, and I can’t get the Pac-12 network on any conventional cable package here, even though I’d pay extra for it if I could. I’m still able to get the channel using Playstation Vue, but that service is discontinuing shortly after the end of football season. There are a few other options out there, but not many, and all have drawbacks.
This isn’t just a Chicago problem. It’s an all-over-the-country problem, even sometimes in the Pac-12 footprint. The network just doesn’t have great distribution, which makes it harder to watch Pac-12 games, and certainly harder for Pac-12 schools to make gobs of money like Big Ten and SEC ones do.
Earlier this season, I shared some internal documents Pac-12 leaders read when evaluating whether they should sell an equity stake in the league. One of those pages said one disadvantage to not selling a stake, or partnering with another entity like ESPN, is that their distribution situation was unlikely to significantly improve before the end of the current contract.
If there was any doubt about that, a recent story from Jon Wilner at the Mercury News should clear up those doubts:
On the scale of omens, Budill's departure registers as an 11. It indicates no carriage breakthroughs are expected — particularly with DirecTV — before the conference renegotiates its full complement of media rights in 2024. That's a long time to carry on with just 17.9 million subscribers
That departure would be Alden Budill, the Pac-12 Network’s head of distribution, who is leaving for a new opportunity outside the network.
Pac-12 fans are endless frustrated with the conference network, which has failed (by a long shot) to produce as much revenue as initially projected.
If Wilner is correct, and for my money, nobody has tracked the Pac-12’s finances better than he has, any lingering hope for major distribution improvements has not probably been extinguished, or at least, in the near future.
Now, Oregon or Utah could still make the college football playoff this season, and the league should have several pretty good teams next year. There are lots of reasons the league has struggled that have nothing to do with this conference network.
But changing that narrative would certainly help! And that’s going to be hard to do with distribution numbers that lag so far behind even the ACC Network right now.
I’m going to have to figure out another creative solution to watch Pac-12 football next year, now that Vue has died. I doubt Comcast picks it up, and unlike every other Mormon around here, I don’t intend to move to Utah in the near future.
Boise State’s TV perks aren’t going anywhere
Boise State managed to finagle themselves a pretty favorable TV deal, compared to their Mountain West peers. As by far the most popular and powerful brand in the conference, and one that nearly left for the Big East (lol remember that), Boise State secured an uneven revenue distribution. Right now, the Broncos make $1.8 million more than anybody else in the league.
The MWC is currently negotiating a new TV deal, but Boise’s home games won’t be part of it. Via the Idaho Statesman:
Boise State’s home football games will be marketed as a separate package to potential TV partners, Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said Tuesday at the conference media days.
The Broncos also will continue to receive $1.8 million per year more TV revenue than the other 10 full members, Thompson said. The current deal, which expires in 2019-20, provides $1.1 million to those 10 schools and $2.9 million to Boise State.
According to Boise State’s contract, the Mountain West must ensure Boise State home football games “are not part of, nor granted under, any current or future MWC conference-wide television rights contract ... .”
As the Statesman noted, this is pretty great timing for Boise State, as they’re going to control some pretty valuable broadcasts. After 2021, teams like Oklahoma State, Michigan State, BYU, UCF, Houston and Oregon all come to town. Even if Boise somehow struggles (possible, but the Broncos have been one of the sport’s most reliably solid teams for two decades now), that home slate is still commercially valuable.
That arrangement is a real drag for the rest of the league, though. Historically, uneven revenue splits are not great for long-term conference unity (ask Big 12 schools how that worked out with Texas), and you already have one conference coach making noise about how maaaybe this league isn’t a perfect fit.
The final details of the MWC TV deal should come out this year, along with BYU’s updated TV deal with ESPN. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson, along with a few ADs, have flat out said the next TV deal will be shorter in length than the AAC TV deal, and will likely retain at least some of the unpopular late-night and non-Saturday kickoff times. My best guess is that MWC games will appear on ESPN, CBS Sports Network, the NFL Network, and potentially a digital-only streaming service, be that ESPN+, FloSports, Stadium, or something else.
No matter what else the rest of the league does, I feel pretty confident Boise will at least be playing on a channel you’ve heard of.
Are coaching quick hooks a new trend? Let’s hope not
Arkansas fired Chad Morris before he finished his second full season with the Razorbacks on Sunday. Even with pretty disastrous results on the field, from losses to San Jose State and Western Kentucky and well, every dang SEC team they played, firing a coach that quickly, without some sort of scandal, is really rare.
And Morris managed to somehow last longer than Willie Taggart at Florida State, who was let go after just 21 games.
I think you can make good arguments that Taggart should have gotten more time, especially given how bad of a roster and culture situation he walked into, but he missed plenty of other opportunities to make things easier on himself (we can’t pretend Florida State looked like an especially well-coached team). But I’m less interested in debating the merit of firing either of these guys, at least, in this newsletter.
T idea of letting two guys go that quickly, given that the total buyout costs here could pass $40 million bucks once you include all the other staffers that need to be bought out, is astonishing to me. And if that becomes more of a trend, I think it’s a terrible precedent.
Taggart and Morris’ firings aren’t only unique in timing and rarity but in expense too. Taggart’s buyout is around $17 million and Morris’ is about $10 million. That cumulative $27 million price tag has those in the industry somewhat disgusted. How will this impact their coach searches? A new coach’s contract could cost more than $20 million guaranteed. And then there’s the current and future staffs. Schools must buy out remaining assistant coaching contracts (many coordinators have two to three year deals), and a new staff might cost more than $5 million in guarantees. That puts the price for a move like Florida State made at as much as $40 million. Oh yes, times have changed.
Broadly speaking, I think this is pretty bad development for a few other reasons, beyond the enormous waste of money.
With the emergence of the early signing period, a coach starting a job in December basically has to punt completely on that year’s recruiting class. If you’re firing a guy two years into the job, you’re looking at a roster that essentially punted on two out of four recruiting classes. That’s an enormous hole to dig out of, and could encourage a coach to start recklessly oversigning JUCO or marginal kids…and the next thing you know, you’re Kansas, stuck with essentially an FCS roster, scholarship-wise. That can set a program back five years, even if you hired a good coach.
There’s also reason to think it just isn’t a long enough period to evaluate most coaches. Guys like Bill Synder, LaVell Edwards, Frank Beamer, hell, even Nick Saban, all struggled before coming into their own. At a harder job, like an Arkansas, rebuilds are going to take time, and bad luck (like injuries, or one position failing to develop) could send a team into the basement quickly.
If you aren’t going to let coaches develop, you’re either going to run them off before they can grow (which is expensive, and will hurt your ability to hire good ones), or you will encourage them to cut corners, which can blow up in your face in a number of other different ways.
I intellectually understand it may still make sense under certain specific circumstances. But here’s hoping it doesn’t happen again next cycle. You can’t build anything meaningful in this sport if you’re constantly blowing up your foundation.
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As always, questions, comments, concerns, feedback, leaked documents and anything else on your mind could be sent to @MattSBN on Twitter dot com, or to Matt.Brown@SBNation.com. if you’d like me to write something for your website, or have a business question, I can be reached at MattBrownOhio@Gmail.com.