Sunday, September 18, 2011

NCAA conference realignments: A lesson in history, leading to a scary conclusion

I'm not as big into college football as other readers/writers on our blog. However, I've been extremely intrigued by the endless turmoil over the last 1.5 years.

I was reading an article on Yahoo which led me to an amazing, well-researched, historical piece on the , chronicling all of the insanity of the NCAA. Some of my favorite moments:
1) in 1939, freshman players at Pitt went on strike because they were getting paid less than their upperclassman teammates. "Embarrassed, the NCAA in 1948 enacted a “Sanity Code,” which was supposed to prohibit all concealed and indirect benefits for college athletes", but the 'Sanity code' was repelaed within a few years
2) In 1951, the NCAA hired Walter Byers as executive director. Then: " he lobbied a University of Kentucky dean—A. D. Kirwan, a former football coach and future university president—not to contest the NCAA’s dubious legal position (the association had no actual authority to penalize the university), pleading that college sports must do something to restore public support. His gambit succeeded when Kirwan reluctantly accepted a landmark precedent: the Kentucky basketball team would be suspended for the entire 1952–53 season. Its legendary coach, Adolph Rupp, fumed for a year in limbo."
3) At the 1951 NCAA convention, there was a vote of "161–7 to outlaw televised games except for a specific few licensed by the NCAA staff." At this time, they were more concerned that people would stay at home and not attend games (and di not realize how much moeny could be made from advertising on the broadcasts).
4) Then... "On June 6, 1952, NBC signed a one-year deal to pay the NCAA $1.14 million for a carefully restricted football package. Byers routed all contractual proceeds through his office. He floated the idea that, to fund an NCAA infrastructure, his organization should take a 60 percent cut; he accepted 12 percent that season. (For later contracts, as the size of television revenues grew exponentially, he backed down to 5 percent.) Proceeds from the first NBC contract were enough to rent an NCAA headquarters, in Kansas City. "
5) In 1961, Byers "negotiated the NCAA’s television package up to $3.1 million per football season—which was higher than the NFL’s figure in those early years."
6) "In 1981 a rogue consortium of 61 major football schools threatened to sign an independent contract with NBC for $180 million over four years. With a huge chunk of the NCAA’s treasury walking out the door, Byers threatened sanctions." However, Georgia and Oklahoma responded with an antitrust suit, which led to a landmark 1984 case. " NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the NCAA’s latest football contracts with television—and any future ones—as an illegal restraint of trade that harmed colleges and viewers. Overnight, the NCAA’s control of the television market for football vanished." This decision allowed the schools to each sell any games they wanted to... and perhaps more relevant to today's happenings, there was no requirement to share revenues with smaller schools.
7) Interestingly though, basketball revenue from the NCAA tourney COVERED the losses of the football revenue (because the NCAA was just taking a % cut of the football, as opposed to who knows what amount of the revenues from the NCAA tourney). "During the 1980s, income from the March Madness college basketball tournament, paid directly by the television networks to the NCAA, grew tenfold. The windfall covered—and then far exceeded—what the organization had lost from football. "
8) The touches on a lot of different topics, including the NCAA's "amateurism," and how it never has been accomplished, the fact that NFL players association gets paid $35 million per year for use of their likenesses by EA sports but college athletes themselves get paid nothing, as well as the Ed O'Bannon case, which is trying to get money paid to college athletes for use of their likenesses on jerseys, video games, etc.... but the article all culminates with one theory... the NCAA receives 95% of its revenues from the men's baksetball tournament. ... which leads to some chilling truths:
a_ "if the big sports colleges don’t need the NCAA to administer a national playoff in football, then they don’t need it to do so in basketball. In which case, they could cut out the middleman in March Madness and run the tournament themselves. Which would deprive the NCAA of close to $1 billion a year, more than 95 percent of its revenue."
b) "To alienate member colleges would be to jeopardize its own existence. Long gone are television bans and the “death penalty” sentences (commanding season-long shutdowns of offending teams) once meted out to Kentucky (1952), Southwestern Louisiana (1973), and Southern Methodist University (1987). Institutions receive mostly symbolic slaps nowadays. Real punishments fall heavily on players and on scapegoats like literacy tutors."

Which leads me to one frightening conclusion... what is stopping the 4 super conferences (I'm assuming Big East and Big 12 case to exist, or no longer get a spot at the BCS table) from breaking away from the NCAA... AND ALSO forming their own basketball tournament? Suddenly, there are millions more (or whatever it is that the NCAA keeps from that $771 million contract) for the 4 super conferences to split for themselves (ACC, Big10, Pac16, SEC16). I suppose the alternative to this scenario is that the NCAA makes a deal with the Big 4 to save itself... and continue to let the Big 4 do whatever it wants in football. What would be stopping the Big 4 from making a grab for the basketball money too? Not that I want them too, but the Big 4 could even spin it as a way for ALL of the schools to get paid MORE (with of course paying out more money to schools that go farther which, most of the time other than Butler time, is going to be a school from the Super-4).

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