SEC commissioner Mike Slive announced last week that details of a new SEC TV contract would be outlined in mid-April. While those figures are currently left to speculation, one certainty is that the restructured deal will net the conference substantial, if not record-setting revenue.
Coincidentally (or not), SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack said in a statement that “unforeseeable and unpredictable” impact would follow splitting television revenue among college players.
Other athletic conference leaders have been at odds with the SEC on various issues, such as oversigning and gray-shirting recruits. But on this topic, there seems to be solidarity. Perhaps the most notable critic of SEC football practices is Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who on Tuesday upped the ante, saying the league would “de-emphasize sports” per Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Staples.
Delany’s harsh rhetoric comes less than four months after the Big Ten expanded to add the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights in an eastern expansion designed to increase the conference’s regional footprint. A larger regional base means more fans, and more potential consumers for the Big Ten Network. BTN is part of the conference’s overall TV deal, worth over $200 million a year.
Now, Delany referred not to television revenue but rather the landmark, class action lawsuit former UCLA Bruins basketball star Ed O’Bannon has headed. The antitrust suit is focused on the NCAA’s use of athlete likeness for commercial purposes.
A drum opponents of paying the major revenue sport athletes (men’s basketball and football) have repeatedly beaten is that any expendable monies generated through those avenues subsidizes the athletic departments’ other teams. Big Ten-bound Maryland was forced to shut down a few programs last year, lending credence to the budget shortfall idea. However, the university is currently locked in a battle with the Atlantic Coast Conference over a $52 million exit fee. That’s more than double the $24 million Maryland will reportedly earn annually from Big Ten broadcasting rights.
Meanwhile, the Big Ten is also stepping in to subsidize Maryland’s travel expenses within the conference.
The conference has millions to pay for a new member — a new member struggling with finances as is — to travel from the Atlantic coast to America’s Heartland. However, paying a stipend is out of the question. It’s a bit confounding, particularly given the wages suggested are rather modest.
South Carolina Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier stands to benefit from the forthcoming new SEC TV contract. He wants the benefit extended to players via $3,500 to $4,000 in yearly stipends.
What major revenue athletes lose in immediate earnings is offset by scholarships and exposure that could net them significant wages further down the road. Indeed, the NFL and NBA select from the college ranks. However, the physical risks NCAA athletes take are no less than those professional take. Spurrier has seen once-surefire first round running back Marcus Lattimore sacrifice his future earnings in the college ranks.
Concussions present problems no one is 100 percent how to address. On Monday, neurologists took steps to solving the matter with the release of new guidelines. Groups endorsing these recommendations:
- National Football League Players Association
- Child Neurology Society
- National Association of Emergency Medical Service Physicians
- National Association of School Psychologists
- National Athletic Trainers Association
- Neurocritical Care Society.
Conspicuously absent is the NCAA. While writing a report on concussions in 2010, I interviewed noted player safety advocate Chris Nowinski, who said the NCAA was lagging behind both youth football and the NFL in its prevention and monitoring of concussions. The nobility behind amateurism, as well as the idea its long-term reward is a showcase to the pros, loses credence when the governing body is not adequately protecting players.
A proverbial elephant-in-the-room is salaries leading to agents in college sports, a byproduct of which would be free agency.
Contract negotiations for high school recruits? Endorsement deals? Players hopping from program to program, chasing the higher TV deal? These are unpleasant realities that would have to be addressed should the NCAA explore player revenue sharing.
Should Delany put his money where his mouth is — in a sense as literal as can be without him chewing on $100 bills — the implications would be tremendous, though not unprecedented. The University of Chicago was once a Big Ten member, long ago. After producing the first Heisman Trophy winner and competing for championships in college football’s early days, the university disbanded the program. It was dormant for over two decades, and returned as it exists now — a Division III member.
Shutting down Big Ten football would leave its members with two choices: join another conference, or follow Chicago’s path. The former also assumes all of college football does not band together. With Womack, Delany and Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds expressing similar sentiments, there does seem to be some cohesion among the administrators.
As deals like the new SEC TV contract grow more lucrative, these choices become more imperative. How college sports’ leaders decide will determine the future of the NCAA and its members in profound ways.