Statehouse challenges to NCAA status quo hit SEC country

A proposed bill in Tennessee offers a new, if perhaps unrealistic, way to give players more money

Good morning!

Some interesting news dropped while I was too busy getting all mad about the #teens and their phones. Let’s talk about that news instead.

A state lawmaker has a new plan to give athletes more money. Is it a good one?

We’ve seen a fair amount of politicians take shots at the current NCAA model of amateurism. At least one state Congressman, plus another Senator, have stated that they’re not satisfied with the current system, and bills proposing to change the status quo have appeared at the statehouse level in Washington, Colorado and most famously, California.

Most of the proposed legislation centers around the idea of allowing players to own their own likeness rights, and retain the ability to monetize those. The NCAA itself is studying that idea. I think it is becoming increasingly popular across college athletics.

But a state legislator in Tennessee has a completely different idea. He wants to cut athletes a check after they graduate. From Fox17 Nashville:

Proposed by Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), HB1547 would establish grants for NCAA athletes after graduating from a four year institution.

The grants would be broken down into two tiers, Tier 1 including athletes who play baseball, basketball, football, and track & field. Tier 2 would include all other intercollegiate Division I sports not included in tier 1.

Under the bill, four year post-secondary schools with Division I sports programs would remit 1% of gross revenue generated from ticket sales, merchandise sales, and broadcast licensing agreements with the school's athletic departments.

Those funds would be put into a special account in the state general fund to provide funding for the grants to athletes who graduate from a four year institution.

Speaking with FOX 17 News Nashville, Parkinson says the spirit of the bill is to keep the money in the state economy. "The spirit of it is to start a business or go back to school," says Parkinson.

I have reached out to Representative Parkinson’s office, but have not received a response.

The TL;DR here is rather than paying (or allowing somebody else to pay) students during their eligibility, students would instead get a grant after they graduate. A Tier 1 athlete, per Parkinson, could earn up to $50,000, while a Tier 2 athlete could clear as much as $25,000.

If you’re interested in the full nitty gritty of the bill, you can read it here.

I can intellectually understand some of the appeal here. Because nobody is getting paid while they are in school, theoretically, nobody risks running afoul of NCAA eligibility guidelines, and the NCAA doesn’t have to make any substantial changes themselves. If Tennessee is one of the few states to enact sure a measure, presumably their schools will enjoy a significant recruiting advantage. Depending on what conditions are attached to that money, it may encourage some athletes to stick around the state for a while. And hey, even $25,000 is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. That’s a hell of a graduation bonus for anybody.

On the other hand, it doesn’t directly address any of the problems posed by the current system. There is a good chance that a great football or basketball player at Tennessee, Memphis or Vanderbilt is “worth” more than $50,000 over a four-year career, so they’d still be “underpaid”, especially if that grant is only valid after graduation, or has other strings attached. And, not to be mean, but the likeness rights of a rower or soccer player at Tennessee are probably worth under $25,000 in the free market.

And that’s an issue since the schools are, at least up front, paying the bill for these grants. Using some VERY rough, back of the napkin math (I’m a liberal arts graduate of a state school, that’s the only math I know), if Tennessee had to kick in 1% of all the money they earned from broadcast rights and ticket sales from 2017, they’re sending a little over $1 million into this new fund. Memphis is contributing about $200,000, MTSU about $60,000, and the Austin Peay types at around $22,000, each. Tennessee has a few private schools too, like Vandy and Belmont, whose revenues aren’t known, but I think if we were to be very conservative, we’d be looking at a total fund size of what, $3 million a year?

That wouldn’t be nearly enough to pay out near the $50,000 maximum. And if the grants only end up being oh, $2,000, or less…then I’m not sure the entire operation has that much of a point.

Part of the appeal of letting kids monetize their likeness is the fact that schools don’t have to actually pay them. Even if Parkinson’s plan works, and the schools are refunded their contributions on a rolling basis, so only the interest from the fund pays for the grants, the school is still giving a 0% loan over a few years to a state fund to pay players. I’m sure they’d hate that.

I don’t know how likely this is become law, since I’m not a Tennessee statehouse reporter, but I would guess it isn’t too likely. But it’s interesting, both because I believe it’s one of the first “find ways to pay players” type laws coming from inside the SEC footprint, and because it differs from most others being proposed. Maybe some other compromise-minded lawmakers will look for ways to get athletes more, without upsetting the NCAA applecart, or power athletic department lobbyists in state.

And hey, if those laws make it a little easier for ol’ State U to sign a few more #croots, well, all the better, right?

What will the new Mountain West TV deal look like?

There’s only one FBS conference media rights deal left until rights start expiring in the early 2020s, and that’s the Mountain West. The deal won’t be finalized until later this year, but Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson has confirmed a few interesting nuggets.

  • Boise State’s home football games will remain separate from the conference TV package. That’s interesting, since Boise State secured their favorable terms when they nearly left to join the Big East. You’d think Boise’s leverage is weaker now with no other conferences lining up to grab them, but they can keep their sweetheart deal. That means Boise State will make more TV revenue than their conference peers, and retain some additional broadcasting flexibility. Generally speaking, I don’t think unequal revenue distribution is a great sign for conference stability, but where else is anybody going to go?

  • This is almost certainly going to be a short-term deal. Sure, the AAC signed a 12-year deal, but Thompson specifically said “We’re going to go shorter” to the Idaho Statesman. I think that makes sense. The Big Ten went shorter. The CAA went shorter. My educated guess is that BYU’s ESPN deal, when that gets finalized this year, won’t be for more than six years. With the industry, especially as it relates to streaming, changing so much, why tie yourself down?

  • I don’t really know, or care, what the final number is because it will depend so much on production costs and responsibilities for each member school. I’m more interested in where the games are, how much control schools get over kickoff times (a sore subject for everybody west of Texas), and what gets streamed. My guess is that we see MWC content on ESPN, ESPN+, CBS and the NFL Network after this TV deal.

Hey, speaking of TV times out west…

The Pac-12 might do WHAT?!?

Back in early June, Jon Wilner of the Mercury News, perhaps the dean of the “Fix the Pac-12” beat, offered a dramatic, outside the box suggestion. Maybe the Pac-12 should play some football games really early in the day. Like, 9 or 10 AM local time. That way, the league wouldn’t have so much inventory to cram into late night TV slots, and they could get a few more eyeballs on TV.

Later, Athletic Director U studied the idea, and while it didn’t give a recommendation, their data did suggest it was possible the Pac-12 could improve their TV numbers, at least a little bit, by playing a few earlier games.

And now, Twitter Punching Bag/Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott…might actually do the damn thing.

So, I’ll be honest with you. My immediate thought after reading this was “this idea sucks.”

That isn’t being very Serious Professional Journalist, right?

So let me try to put on my Serious Professional Journalist hat here for a second. Yes, I suspect putting a few games in the noon EST time slot (or thereabouts) may improve the TV rating for a few Pac-12 games. Yes, the alternative—playing games late at night—is also very disruptive for fans, especially in markets where fans regularly travel great distances to attend the games (e.g. Oregon). And yes, the Pac-12 needs to think outside the box and #innovate.

I also understand that such a policy might not be backbreaking disruptive everywhere. If you HAVE to do this, the obvious place to start would probably be a Utah game. Most Utah fans live relatively close to Salt Lake, they don’t have a problem selling tickets, traffic isn’t brutal (like it is in say, L.A.), and their fanbase isn’t quite as booze-soaked. Plus, it’d be a 10 AM local kickoff. That’s early, but not the end of the world. In fact, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham even supports the idea. At least two other coaches in the conference, at UCLA and Colorado, at least didn’t oppose the idea. The players are up anyway, after all.

Okay, let me take off my Serious Professional Journalist hat. It was messing up my hair anyway.

I still think this idea sucks.

This debate strikes at a core issue that has been a theme of this newsletter. Is college football a product for TV, or a product for immediate fans and local communities? You get more money from TV, of course, but the point of the operation isn’t just to make money from your athletic department. Big picture, you’re trying to make money and create an event and culture that ties alumni, community members and students together. If you’re making money because folks 1,000 miles away are absentmindedly flipping between your game and Purdue/Minnesota, while your own university stakeholders are sleeping in, what’s even the point of all of this?

Most Pac-12 schools have enough problems getting fans to show up. Many schools either have to deal with hellish traffic, or with fans that often travel great distances to get to the game. Why make it harder for those fans to participate and tailgate? Is the extra TV money, or eyeballs, worth the shots of Stanford Stadium with nine hundred people in it?

Plus, if you’re going to do this, shouldn’t these conversations be happening a year earlier? If you’re trying to make a play for the Fox noon window, shouldn’t you do that before the network announces they’re putting Texas, Ohio State, and Michigan there on a regular basis, to make that their new primetime? Shouldn’t you do this well in advance so you don’t accidentally kneecap the conference favorite by making them play a 9 AM kickoff in Pullman? No league kills their chances at the playoff with their scheduling like the Pac-12.

I’m all for outside the box ideas. But those ideas should benefit the fans with the closest connection to the program, and I can’t see how early kicks are in their best interest.

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