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Tipping point

[ 102 ] August 16, 2013 |

french revolution

Since it’s NCAA-bashing day here at LGM, I wanted to mention that the current well-deserved storm of vituperation being visited on the organization seems like a classic tipping point phenomenon. After all, the basics of the situation — big time college football and men’s basketball programs raking in huge dollars; players prohibited from getting any share of the vast revenue streams they create — have been the same for a long, long time.

So why the sudden cultural shift on this, in which lots of elite opinion types are attacking the NCAA in the context of the Manziel business?

My sense is because at some point the combination of dollar amounts and rampant hypocrisy become too much for a critical mass of people who are in a position to have their opinion heard. It’s one thing to pay your football coach $250,000 a year (This was about the highest salary of any college football head coach 30 years ago, and it was considered an outrage at the time by many people, as it was much more than any university president was being paid. It’s the equivalent of about $600,000 in current dollars btw).

It’s another when a head coach with a $15 million guaranteed contract is entitled to only one third as much as one of his peers and there are assistant coaches getting seven figure annual salaries, and luxury suites are being rented out at $85,000 per year (price does not include actual tickets to the games, which must be purchased separately), and the NCAA is making bank on freaking VIDEO GAMES using player names and images and etc etc.

At some point it all becomes too much, and that point is apparently now.

. . . Alan Tomilnson in comments notes that widespread disgust over the Paterno scandal may have played a role, which seems plausible. A friend adds:

When conference expansion first hit in a wave, a lot of it made sense. Penn State to the Big Ten was a logical move, as was FSU to the ACC and the creation of the Big XII. The most recent spate, starting with the ACC adding BC and then continuing with Rutgers/Maryland to the Big Ten, hasn’t made sense on the field. It hasn’t been a result of Team X winning a lot of games and then getting invited into a better conference. Instead, it has been about nothing more than TV markets. Even the Big XII defections were driven by TV. A&M to the SEC, Nebraska to the B1G and Colorado/Utah to the Pac Ten make some regional sense (Mizzou to the SEC does not), but it was all the result of Texas fucking the rest of the conference by starting the Longhorn Network.

Texas no longer plays Texas A&M. Pitt no longer plays West Virginia. Maryland is about to give up its rivalries with UVA, UNC, and Duke. And this is all because of TV. If college football is going to be so obviously driven by revenue maximization and fans are going to lose some of the traditions that made the sport attractive, then why would they oppose players getting paid. Once you drill home the fact that college football is a business, then the employees need to get more than scrip from the company store.

JBJ in comments:

You neglect to mention part of the perfect storm over Johnny Manziel — as sportscaster Jay Bilas made known on Twitter, if you go to the NCAA website and search on Manziel’s name, you find a range of Texas A&M jerseys with Manziel’s name and number, selling for up to $65 per. This came to light simultaneously with Manziel being threatened over the allegation of selling his signature. Even the NCAA couldn’t defend that juxtaposition.

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  1. Shawn says:

    I teach at a small college where the pay isn’t that crazy, but to add some perspective, I get a nasty note if we spend too much money on PAPER or CHALK. It would be a lot worse if the coach made a zillion dollars a year.

  2. Alan Tomlinson says:

    I suspect that the Penn State child molestation case has done a great service to removing the shine from the NCAA. Joe Paterno was an enabling piece of shit and he was considered one of the paragons of the NCAA.

    Cheers,

    Alan Tomlinson

    • Desert Rat says:

      I think this, the Taylor Branch article (and a number of articles, including another by Branch, and the increasing escalation of salaries for college football and basketball coaches and ADs salaries have pretty much created the perfect storm.

      Penn State, I think, opened a lot of people’s eyes that college football is primarily a business. It tore off the veil over any pretense of amateurism. It pretty much paralleled the atrocities being revealed on Wall Street at about the same time. Big business executive types who were a lot more concerned with keeping their jobs, and keeping the revenues going in than they were about the people who worked for them, or for the people they should be caring about.

  3. joe from Lowell says:

    In a broad sense, we need to bring back some share and anger to the terms “greedy” and “unfair.”

    This seems like as good a place to start as any.

  4. NewishLawyer says:

    All this sort of stuff makes me very glad I went to a Division III school without a football team.

    I’m not really a sports guy and I did not grow up in an area where high school or college football were the ultimate forms of entertainment so all this stuff is really foreign to me.

    My personal solution would be to end college sports as big money/business but that is probably impossible. Paying the athletes is probably the best possible reform.

    Do people still romanticize the idea of the student as the person playing for love? Why do we care about college sports when we have plenty of professional sports teams? Is it a geographic need to have a team close by? Based on very unscientific observation, it often seems that the big Sport univerisities are located in areas without professional sports teams with some exceptions like North Carolina and Basketball (Duke and UNC and the Hornets).

  5. Mark says:

    Sadly, I feel the tipping point is the fact that it’s a well off white kid getting punished. =/

  6. Alan in SF says:

    Destroying regional conference affiliations and traditional rivalries; eliminating the Saturday afternoon football starting time; eliminating the New Year’s Day bowl games and having six weeks of idle time between the end of the football season and the “national championship” game; paving over every court in the basketball tournament with their Evil Empire black-and-blue NCAA floors…the NCAA, on top of its other sins, has done everything possible to destroy the ties that used to bind.

    All this, and the Paterno scandal, prepared the ground. But nothing quite brought it all into focus as profoundly as, “You can’t sell your autograph, only we can sell your autograph.”

    Thank you, Johnny Football.

  7. I have the feeling that once the college football actually starts, much of this criticism will vanish.

    • Mudge says:

      May you live up to your name.

    • Desert Rat says:

      I don’t know. Certainly, for die-hard college football fans, nothing short of watching their coach eat a live baby during a live broadcast on ESPN will probably sway them. For casual fans, and certainly younger fans, that may be less the case.

      I used to count myself in that category, but much as I gave up boxing in the early 1990s because I could no longer stand the thought of watching two people basically giving each other concussions, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to have that good feeling about football. I still watch my alma mater, but not as emphatically as I used to (nor do I watch every game), and it’s very rare when I’ll watch a game that doesn’t involve a team tied in some fashion to ASU (an ASU game, or a critical conference matchup that impacts my team). Part of that is concussions/head injuries, but in the case of the NCAA, this plays a part as well.

  8. JBJ says:

    Paul, you neglect to mention part of the perfect storm over Johnny Manziel — as sportscaster Jay Bilas made known on Twitter, if you go to the NCAA website and search on Manziel’s name, you find a range of Texas A&M jerseys with Manziel’s name and number, selling for up to $65 per. This came to light simultaneously with Manziel being threatened over the allegation of selling his signature. Even the NCAA couldn’t defend that juxtaposition.

  9. Crosseyed says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the reason is Johnny Football is a well-off kid, but I also think that’s not the full part of the story. No one seems to like him, personally.

    I think the autograph causing trouble is part of the reason the NCA may finally be in trouble. People are still uncomfortable with sacks of cash given by a booster to an athlete, because all that a lot of people that watch the games care about is winning and losing. They don’t like The Other Guys “cheating” to help them beat their precious team.

    Johnny Football selling his autograph to someone with 0 ties to Texas A&M doesn’t seem to cause this problem in some people’s minds.

    TL;DR – Johnny Football selling autographs didn’t cause Alabama to lose to Texas A&M. Cam Newton getting cash caused Alabama to lose to Auburn. This causes people to care less about Johnny Football, rightly or wrongly.

    • socraticsilence says:

      I think this is part of it, another part of it is its an autograph, not a jersey or tickets or anything like that, this is something that seems to intrinsic to Manziel in a way that say him selling his Helmet from the Alabama game doesn’t.

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        He’s selling something that’s his, not the school’s. I get that.

        I wonder what would happen if someone who was famous outside of sport played NCAA sport and carried on selling their signature while an NCAA student-athlete.

        There’ve been a few child-star actors who went to college (Natalie Portman is the most famous). It really would be hilarious to watch the NCAA squirm over that one.

  10. Brien Jackson says:

    I think that the seeds of this originate with the decision to start licensing things like jerseys and video games in the first place, and the fuckwits who run the NCAA not realizing, because, ya know, they’re a bunch of arrogant fuckwits, what a precarious position that put them in. It actually seems as though they thought that they’d totally get away with not putting names on the jersey or not using the name of a player in a football game and that would totally negate any claim by the players to their image. Yeah.

    The thing to do in light of this would have been to essentially start looking the other way at petty violations and let the players get fat on third party payments (provided of course that they were at least putting up a pretense of compliance), but instead the NCAA decided to do exactly the wrong thing and come down on any semblance of impropriety with an iron hammer. Add that to the salaries coaches are not only being paid, but leaving behind for even bigger salaries, toss in the mounting evidence concerning the physical toll football takes on the body, and you’ve got yourself a reality more and more people simply can’t reconcile themselves to support.

    • Andrew says:

      They got caught between their dual mandate of profit and sanctimony. Looking the other way on violations is as much of a threat to their cartel as abandoning amateurism.

      • philadelphialawyer says:

        I really think it is more the sanctimony than the greed. The NCAA is just so patently full of shit, so blatantly hypocritical, that it makes peoples’ blood boil. Going on and on about “amateurism” in an environment that screams commercialism twenty four seven. Shoot, everything about big time athletics shouts “greed” the Olympics, and pro sports, ie league sports, individual sports, etc, and not just in the USA (by a long shot) most of all. But they are upfront about it. The players play for money, the coaches and the executives are in it for the money too, as are the networks and owners. And even the refs and umpires and governing body officials. They do their jobs and play their roles in the capitalist system (either as employers or employees), and get paid and/or make profits. But the NCAA, and the schools, pretend not to. And that pissed people off.

        That, and it being so god damned unaccountable. Not s State actor, doncha know, so the NCAA is not held to fourteenth amendment standards, even though every fucking state university and college in the country is bound by its rules. Not a for profit company either, so not accountable under the laws governing that type of organization as well, even though everyone associated with it, except the “student athletes,” makes money. Insulated completely from all legal scrutiny and protected generally from journalistic investigation because all of the big media corporations are their “partners” and wish to remain so.

        Self dealing, self important, with fake self policing, fraudulent guardians of a phony, self serving “tradition” that they willingly and quite happily and openly sell out to the highest bidder on one end (their own) while enforcing its punitive implications like Javert down to (literally) the level of a free slice of pizza on the other end (ie, once again, the student athletes), the NCAA stinks to high heaven. The sooner these gold plated phonies, these hideous, disgusting parasites, are ridden out of town on a rail, the better.

  11. Brien Jackson says:

    Plus, the proliferation of media in the internet age is creating more room for people to speak out against the NCAA, and an archive for setting the facts straight on things like non-guaranteed scholarships.

  12. Monday Night Frotteur says:

    The 1990 round of conference expansion pissed a lot of people off too. The decision about which SWC schools got to go to the Big XII and which ones were sloughed off into potential oblivion was not based on any merit other than the power of each institution’s political connections in Texas.

    This debate seemed to change dramatically after the Atlantic Monthly published Taylor Branch’s “Shame of College Sports.” Branch focused a bright light on the history of faux-amateurism which helped writers combat the assertions of Emmert and his ilk.

    • ichninosan says:

      “This debate seemed to change dramatically after the Atlantic Monthly published Taylor Branch’s “Shame of College Sports.”

      Agreed. Among other things, Branch demonstrated how the NCAA has exploited moral outrage over scandals to enhance NCAA power and money. The CCNY point shaving scandal is the most prominent (and profitable) example.

    • JBJ says:

      power of each institution’s political connections in Texas.

      Or their dollar power in terms of TV market, number of alums, et. al. I am in ACC territory, and when the speculation was rampant over what schools the ACC would add, I had the thought, I bet they would KICK OUT Wake Forest if they thought they could get away with it. Same perhaps with Vanderbilt and the SEC.

      • jmauro says:

        I always wondered why Vanderbilt doesn’t leave for the Big 10.

        It always seemed like a better fit there.

        • Andrew says:

          The B1G requires that schools be in contiguous states. They’d have to also add a research university in KY, MO, or VA now that they have UMD.

          • elm says:

            They’ve been discussing the possibility of Georgia Tech at various times. I’m thinking they would waive that rule in a heartbeat for the right school. (Not saying either Georgia Tech or Vandy would be that school.)

    • philadelphialawyer says:

      Totally agree about the SWC. The idea that that league, which was highly successful on and off the field, was somehow not viable, set off alarm bells. This was a conference of big time college football schools in TEXAS, for christsakes (I believe U of Arkansas was the only non Texas school in the conference)! And, what? It wasn’t making enough money? Even though national champions and Heisman trophy winners were coming out of it, with stadiums filled every week, and long running, popular rivalries? With plenty of games on ABS and a guaranteed spot in a “big” New Year’s Day bowl (the Cotton Bowl, right in the heart of the conference’s territory).

      If all of that was somehow “not good enough” for purposes of money making, what would be? Now we know, nothing is. Constant rejuggling of leagues and “playoffs” designed for TV, stripping New Year’s Day of its significance, gutting rivalries, some over a century old, all of that, and more, is still not enough. No, the sky is not high enough to be the limit when it comes to greed, but the athletes should still not only work for nothing, but be prohibited from selling their chattels and their services too. Who can defend this shit anymore?

      • Brien Jackson says:

        Huh? The SWC combined with the Big 8 after the CFA television rights monopoly fell apart, mostly because combining Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas maximized their television power. It’s probably more interesting to look at why the Big 12 then fell apart: Texas and Oklahoma were getting all of the conference’s money.

        • philadelphialawyer says:

          Huh what? What don’t you understand?

          The SWC was a profitable, competitive, successful conference centered in the heart of college football country. Sure, it was more profitable to dump some of the lesser schools and combine with the Big Eight, for the non dumped schools. That was kinda the point. That more money was the only consideration. That a league that was ALREADY successful, competitive, profitable, etc was not good enough for the Greedy Gusses at UT, A and M, etc. And rivalries, history, tradition, State and regional pride and so on be damned.

          And that, as I said, set off, or should have set off, alarm bells. If a Texas conference with a tie in to a big, New Year’s Day bowl was not enough of a money maker, what would be? Again, now we know—nothing is. Seems easy enough to understand.

          And, to me, no, it is not “probably more interesting” to look at why the Big 12 fell apart. First of all, as you say, it is no mystery…the two biggest boys, OU and UT wanted and got all the money. Secondly, by the time the Big 12 fell apart the free for all was pretty much on everywhere anyway. The fall of the SWC, on the other hand, was sort of the first straw, as opposed to just another straw.

  13. socraticsilence says:

    Oh and the NCAA being even more blatantly hypocritical than normal has helped as well- the Jay Bilas tweets about searching for names and getting jerseys back tore off the thin and mostly nominal veneer of said jerseys not being tied to the players that schools and the NCAA used to defend themselves. Or TAMU auctioning off a helmet signed by Manziel for 18k- while at the same time the NCAA is investigating alleged payments for significantly less to JFF. Finally, I think the NCAA is really, really worried about looking too deeply into this given that autograph sales are kind of ubiquitous among high-level NCAA athletes (see- Clowney having 300 consecutively signed items, etc.)- they know it will cripple the sport and that public perception on Autographs is dramatically different than perception of say a booster buying a recruit an Escalade.

  14. FMguru says:

    I think another source is just simple cohort-age replacement among sportswriters. All those old fogies who would solemnly gas on about the Storied Integrity of Amateur Competition have been dying off and are being replaced with younger voices that grew up in the ESPN era and who don’t have any particular affection for the Hallowed Canons of college sports.

    There’s also the rise of alternate sports media like Deadspin which aren’t nearly as compromised by their relationship with the NCAA and who have been calling out the NCAA since their founding.

  15. rudolph schnubelt says:

    what does the money making sports business have to do with the mission of a university?

    • PeakVT says:

      Not much. But a system that started off relatively innocuous has grown and evolved to such a degree that the vested interests involved are huge. At this point, nobody can afford to give it up unless everybody gives it up, and since US higher education is fragmented in the extreme, it’s highly unlikely that everybody will give it.

      • Porternator says:

        I hasn’t been innocuous for a long, long time. You can find all kinds of crazy stories during the Ivy days of paying players under the table, coaches salaries being obscene, etc. Everything new is old. Supposedly, Walter Camp formalized the rules of football to favor the Yale version of the sport over the Harvard version. Changing the rule book to disadvantage a rival – that’s some real underhanded stuff right there.

  16. Dilan Esper says:

    I think that this is just a classic example of fantasy meeting reality.

    The fantasy actually has a lot of appeal for a lot of people. College sports as a sort of extracurricular activity, a way to direct some scholarships to good schools to poor kids from the inner city, a way to ensure that future professional athletes get some fall-back life training in case the athletic career does not succeed or is cut short. And communities get behind college sports with rah-rah spirit, marching bands and cheerleaders perform at the games, etc. Students also benefit, because they get to go to the games and sit in the student section, which is fun.

    The reality is that college sports have been basically quasi-professional, with all the trappings of professional sports (high ticket prices, luxury boxes, expensive audio and visual entertainment at the games, fancy practice facilities, etc.), and the educational component is something of a joke in many programs (low graduation rates, basketweaving classes, etc.).

    One of my favorite examples of the reality is how student sections have been moved from the best seats in the house to some of the worse. There are a few exceptions– Duke still puts the Cameron Crazies in the floor-level seats on the sidelines– but most student sections have been moved to the backs of end zones to ensure that big donors can nab the best seats in the house. That’s obviously not THE problem with college sports, but it’s kind of a leading indicator– if it was really an extracurricular activity meant to benefit the students, the students would still be sitting on the 50 yard line.

    So when reality meets fantasy, eventually reality wins. And what we are seeing now is the process of reality finally winning out.

    • slavdude says:

      Regarding academics and sports: I went to two Ivy League schools (undergraduate and graduate). The Ivies at least retain the pretense of having amateur players, since their participation in sports is not supposed to take precedence over their academics. Sure, my undergraduate institution had a major for most of the athletes (Organizational Behavior and Management, which was basically a business degree), but the athletes I knew were all really intelligent and articulate.

      I live in Colorado, where until the CU Buffaloes were moved to the Pac Ten (where the football team is WAY outclassed), one of the biggest rivals was Nebraska. Their coach in the 80s and 90s emphasized academics for his players, and he had one of the highest graduation rates in Division I (I think). People in Colorado used to joke that the Cornhuskers were the “Knowledge Boys” (I mean, what else did the “N” on their helmets stand for?). That said, how many big-name sports mills Division I schools (other than, say, Stanford) actually emphasize academic achievement for their athletes as well as their prowess on the field/court/pool?

    • FridayNext says:

      As a student I saw every Florida home game for three years. I never once saw a marching band formation right side up. We knew full well who the important people in the stadium were and it wasn’t us except for television B roll.

  17. Mardam says:

    I can agree to a point that college athletes should be paid. But what is a scholarship, after all? 99% of these kids aren’t going pro. They are getting a free chance to make their lives better after college. Something that everyone else pays thru the nose for.
    And be careful what you wish for. Who gets paid and how? And how much? What about stuff like Manziel selling his autograph? Where does that end up? Those autograph and memorabilia guys are sleazy enough. What happens if they get carte blanche to pay some of these kids? Now who’s using the kids, and how can they be protected?
    And don’t forget about what happens to NCAA sponsored bowl games, and tournaments in other sports. How will this affect them?
    It all sounds good until someone loses a March Madness.

    • Brien Jackson says:

      “But what is a scholarship, after all? 99% of these kids aren’t going pro. They are getting a free chance to make their lives better after college. Something that everyone else pays thru the nose for.”

      Except, of course, that the programs devalue the educational component of college by making demands on your time and energy, pushing you into easier courses, etc. So this is only true if you ignore the reality of what a “student-athlete” does.

      “And be careful what you wish for. Who gets paid and how? And how much? What about stuff like Manziel selling his autograph? Where does that end up? Those autograph and memorabilia guys are sleazy enough. What happens if they get carte blanche to pay some of these kids? Now who’s using the kids, and how can they be protected?”

      Trollololololololo.

      • FMguru says:

        Except, of course, that the programs devalue the educational component of college by making demands on your time and energy, pushing you into easier courses, etc.

        This gets overlooked a lot when people are playing up the value of the “free” education that athletes receive. At a big name program, being an athlete is a more-than-full-time job. Between workouts and filmrooms and scrimages and home games and road games, athletes almost have to take the specially-prepared pathway of Rocks For Jocks and Basketweaving 101. Athletes get worthless educations because they’re specifically driven into learn-nothing academic paths – not because they are dumb or the athletic department is worried about them flunking out, but because a proper collegiate course load would cut into their workout and practice time. If you’re a tackle and you want to major in engineering because you realize you have no chance of making the pros and want a real skill to fall back on, your coaches will do everything they can to dissuade you, up to finding an excuse to cut you from the team and your scholarship. Just shut up, take your eight credits of Communication Studies, and hit the weight room, meat.

        And it’s not just Big Two sports – a friend of mine’s daughter was recruited by a powerhouse softball program but declined to accept the offer because the sheer number of road games she’d have to travel to meant essentially no time for studies or other extracurriculars or dating or really anything else that makes up the College Experience. And this was a sport that was not a money maker and had zero possibility of leading to any sort of career!

        • FridayNext says:

          And don’t forget, NCAA rules forbid scholarships for more than one year and need to be renewed each year. The community colleges around most DIV powerhouses are filled with the athletes cast off from the larger school because they got injured, didn’t produce, or the coach just didn’t like them.

          And since the athletes can earn any money on their own, none of them have savings to continue at their original school without help and none of them have quality credits to transfer to another school.

          Why would 4 year scholarships be such a bad thing? I never understood that.

          • elm says:

            4 year scholarships exist now, at least for football. You still have to maintain good academic standing and not get into any trouble, and it’s vague enough about what the latter means to give the coach some wiggle room, but schools are free to offer 4-year schollies if they want. Texas, for instance, appears to be doing that for all its football players.

    • Monday Night Frotteur says:

      1) The GIA scholarship isn’t “free,” it’s conditioned on very difficult athletic performance.

      2) “Who gets paid and how”

      The players with skills demanded by the market, in US Dollars? Why is this such an outlandish proposition?

      3) What happens if [autograph seekers] get carte blanche to pay some of these kids? . . . How can they be protected?

      Kids get paid for their autographs. What do you think would happen? Some would sign endorsement contracts, and if the other party breached those contracts courts would protect the players (possibly at the behest of agents).

      It all sounds good until someone loses a March Madness.

      It’s almost impossibly unlikely that no entity would produce an inter-institution basketball tournament. If there’s no longer a cartel agreement that refers to itself as the “NCAA,” something else would take its place, and that organization would be beyond irrational if it didn’t host a postseason tournament for the lucrative sports (and even the non-lucrative ones! IIRC the NCAA Wrestling tournament is very profitable).

    • Andrew says:

      There’s a fundamental hypocrisy and exploitation in the NCAA, conferences, and schools using players to generate revenue in excess of operating expenses while limiting players to the value of a scholarship. As you note, that revenue isn’t being spent to improve education or decrease tuition cost.

      Student athletes, except for the 1% who can go pro and get insured against future earnings, are bearing the risk of injury for the value of a revocable scholarship. That’s unfair to say the least.

      The memorabilia sellers are already taking advantage of the players. Any new system is likely to be better than the current black market.

      Why does the impact on tournaments and bowls matter? Lost revenue that already isn’t going to players or students? Plus, the NCAA has shown a marked ability to profit from controversial outcomes. Cf. the BCS.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      And be careful what you wish for. Who gets paid and how? And how much? What about stuff like Manziel selling his autograph? Where does that end up? Those autograph and memorabilia guys are sleazy enough. What happens if they get carte blanche to pay some of these kids? Now who’s using the kids, and how can they be protected?

      If only there was some mechanism that would allow the interactions of supply and demand to result in outcomes acceptable to both parties.

    • Royko says:

      Sure, a few players may get exploited by sleazy managers and agents, but that still seems preferable to all players getting exploited by the NCAA. It’s not like they can possibly get less out of this.

      I think there’s good reason to be suspicious of even well-intentioned paternalism, but even moreso when the paternalism massively profits those enforcing it.

  18. mayberrymachiavelli says:

    Big time college sports make about as much sense to the core purpose of academia as the Marine Corps having a ballet troupe.

    • Andrew says:

      The Marine Corps Ballet seems like it would fit perfectly well with the Marine Corps’ mission to lift, point, and shoot.

      • FridayNext says:

        Funny, cause they do have a Jazz Band. In fact I have seen some claims, never verified by me, that the USA spends more on military bands than on the combined budgets of the NEA and NEH.

        But GSD forbid the government support arts programs.

  19. JBJ says:

    A comment on superconferences: It bothers ME to have the traditional rivalries torn apart, but I’m not sure how widespread that sentiment is. Case in point: My dad is a West Virginia alum. I find it especially absurd that WVU is now in the Big 12 along with Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa State — schools WVU may never have faced in 100 years. But my dad, after being initially unhappy with the move, has actually talked himself into being okay with it: “We’re a land grant school too, we have a lot in common with them.” Some of the comments in NC about Maryland defecting from the ACC have been along the lines of, “I never liked them anyway.” As long as YOUR school finds a chair when the music stops, you tend to find a way to be happy about it.

    As a longterm thing, however, when your college conference spans half of North America, it may start to look not much different from the NFL or NBA.

    “Ditto” to the comment that Deadspin has added an important voice that is not in bed with the NCAA like ESPN is. Taylor Branch struck a blow, but Deadspin is in a lot of people’s faces every day.

    • Dilan Esper says:

      Bear in mind that not everything is better in a world where the free market applies to athletics.

      For instance, it’s probably the case that more great baseball players played their full careers with one or two teams in the days before free agency. And that’s not worthless– it’s much easier for fans to develop favoritism towards a player who isn’t switching to a different franchise every few years. It just doesn’t justify not paying players what they are worth.

      Similarly, a free market in college athletics probably, in the end, means more of these shenanigans with conferences and rivalries (and certainly doesn’t mean less of them). Extremely powerful schools with a lot of money, like Texas and USC, will become basically free agents who will have a lot of bargaining power to join the conferences they want to join, or to become independent if they want (as Notre Dame already is in football).

      And before someone says “well that can happen anyway”, the thing is, it actually started happening after some of the cartel-like aspects of the NCAA were defeated in court cases. The case stripping the NCAA of the power to negotiate collective television contracts was very much a part of the reason the SWC eventually broke up and has certainly been a catalyst for the creation of the BCS system and the dilution of the power of bowl games to feature traditional matchups.

      The thing is, allowing the free market in athletics is still the right thing to do, because anything else is unfair to the athletes and perpetuates the NCAA as a cartel. We shouldn’t assume that letting a thousand flowers bloom will be all good, though.

      • Brien Jackson says:

        Left unsaid, it should be noted, is why this is the sort of “problem” anyone should care too terribly much about.

      • Andrew says:

        You buried the lead there. Tradition and competitive parity shouldn’t be prioritized at the cost of exploitation. The primary purpose of a university isn’t to serve athletes who can win championships.

        It’s a similar to situation with schools that have dropped sports rather than adding new women’s teams in order to comply with Title IX. They chose how to prioritize their resources and everyone adapted.

      • Monday Night Frotteur says:

        it’s probably the case that more great baseball players played their full careers with one or two teams in the days before free agency

        Well, that’s debatable, and franchises are increasingly using their TV money to lock up players for the very-long term while they’re young (Votto, Hamels, Longoria, Andrus, Verlander, Pedrioa, Buster Posey, soon Kershaw, etc.), so I think that to the extent you are correct about that, people won’t think that’s true 15 years from now.

        And a lack of player movement isn’t an inherently good thing! Some superstars who are stuck in a rancid franchise move to increase their chances of winning a title. That’s a good thing; for the most part we want to see the best players playing against each other on the biggest stage (the WS).

        • Dilan Esper says:

          I agree a lack of player movement isn’t necessarily a good thing.

          I am saying something else– there’s no guarantee that all the effects of doing the right thing for athletes are necessarily going to be positive.

          This is true in a lot of areas, actually. It’s true, for instance, with unionization. Workers should have the right to collectively bargain. But that doesn’t mean that every work rule that was ever put in place by a union is a good thing, or that the mob-dominated unions of the past (which thankfully ARE in the past) were a good thing.

          Rights sometimes come with costs. But they are still rights. In this case, I suspect there will be some positive aspects of college sports that we may lose when we start doing the right thing. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing.

          • Andrew says:

            So? We don’t have a worker’s paradise available for comparison. What matters is whether an alternative is better than the status quo. Without providing a better alternative to the one being discussed, this is beside the point.

          • Hogan says:

            there’s no guarantee that all the effects of doing the right thing for athletes are necessarily going to be positive.

            The hands, they are well and truly wrung.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        For instance, it’s probably the case that more great baseball players played their full careers with one or two teams in the days before free agency.

        It’s worth noting that the effect was very marginal. Even before free agency very, very few stars played for one team there entire career.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        Every other country’s soccer fans are rabid about the team even though they transfer players all the time. I have to think that thousands of people would still want to follow Trojans FC even if the team were completely severed from the University of Southern California.

    • philadelphialawyer says:

      With all due respect, your Dad is not the last word on the matter. Decades old rivalries constitute tradition in sports. And tradition in the good sense of the word, rather than the bad. Continuity, connections between past, present and future. Stability, when what exists is good, is itself good.

      Sure, there is no problem with WVU playing Nebraska, but to simply abandon the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt is just incredibly short sighted and stupid.

      The conferences and rivalries formed over time. They are regionally based. They even have cultural and sociological significance. To just throw all that away so that we can make more money this year by playing an entirely new slate of schools in a new conference can’t be justified. And then, when the current contract runs out, to do the same thing again? It makes for rootlessness. It doesn’t allow for comparisons. It precludes any sense of rivalry for the future. It’s just wrong.

      • Brien Jackson says:

        “The conferences and rivalries formed over time. They are regionally based. They even have cultural and sociological significance. To just throw all that away so that we can make more money this year by playing an entirely new slate of schools in a new conference can’t be justified.”

        Wait, sure it can. Unless you think Colorado, Nebraska, and Texas A&M should have just stayed put in a conference that was explicitly rigged to funnel the majority of television money to Oklahoma and Texas, with those two schools not only refusing to renegotiate the deal, but threatening to jump to the Pac-10 to create a new supermedia conference themselves.

        Past that, the story of “conference breakup” is really just the story of the Big East falling apart when Miami and Virginia Tech went to the ACC, but in that case it certainly made more sense for both of those schools to play with Florida State and Virginia than with Syracuse and Rutgers.

        • philadelphialawyer says:

          First of all, what does the plight of the schools you mention have to do with WVU? It was not in a conference where all the money was monopolized by a few schools.

          Secondly, the Big 12 itself, which is what you are talking about, was itself the product of an ongoing process that privileged the super teams over the conferences. I am not defending the big boys, far from it. As I wrote above, UT and A and M had no business breaking up the SWC, and thus had no business even being in a “Big 12″ conference, which was doing just fine when it was the Big Eight. The point is not which school is to blame…as most of them are. They all mostly seek to maximize revenue at the expense of history, tradition, and so on. The big boys, sure, but the not quite so big boys too, like WVU.

          And, no, the story of conference breakup is NOT just about the Big East. Right now, conference break up and reformation, jumping from conference to conference, and ridiculous, non regional conference set ups have all become endemic. Teams now join and leave conferences at will, without regard to anything but this year’s bottom line, and the long term, the rivalries, the traditions, the continuities (the very things that make college football special and unique and beloved) be damned. And it goes well beyond the Big East. As mentioned above, the breakup of the Southwest Conference was more or less the start of it, and that has squat to do with the Big East. And you have the Big 8 to Big 12 to Big nothing story. With Mizzu now in the SEC. Forget about its rivalries with its neighbors, Nebraska and Kansas and KSU, grounded in history and tradition. No, now it can play against Florida and South Carolina instead. Tell me, what does that have to do with the Big East?

          Frankly, you have no idea what you are talking about.

  20. crosspalms says:

    Don’t forget Joe Nocera’s NYT columns about the NCAA. I think he’s made a difference, too.

  21. Porternator says:

    Personally, the tipping point was the formation of the BCS. We all may not like it, but it brought all of the “big time” schools and conferences together in a place separate from the NCAA. And a whole shit load of money was made. And with how the NCAA has handled the one part these schools/conferences left to its purview – enforcement – I think everyone is looking around and starting to think to themselves ‘Why the fuck are these guys still here?’.

    • Andrew says:

      The BCS seems more like an effect than a cause. It consolidated the changes created by the NCAA losing the ability to prevent universities and conferences from negotiating TV contracts, the conference realignment that followed, and the 90s split championships. The revenue itself is coming from the expansion of licensing opportunities especially with cable TV, video games, and the Internet.

      • Porternator says:

        Yes, but this was the first time all of the conferences joined together to start making money. (Actually, I guess the Bowl Alliance was, but who cares about that?) Before that, it was the conferences by themselves negotiating, and it’s still that way for most bowl games.

        • Andrew says:

          Until ’84 it was the NCAA negotiating. There’s an 8 year gap between the court decision in favor of Oklahoma and the creation of the Bowl Alliance. And another 6 years before the BCS.

          I just don’t think that given the rest of the context, the existence of the BCS is particularly explanatory.

          • Porternator says:

            My point is that before, the primary negotiators were conferences. And that’s still the case for most things. But the BCS (and Bowl Alliance beforehand) brought everyone to the same table to begin splitting up the big pie at the end of the season.

            If everyone was fighting team-vs-team or conference-vs-conference for that money, I’m not sure how much push would be happening to the NCAA. But instead, as they (the conferences) have worked together more closely to divide revenue in the BCS, suddenly the outsider looks like the NCAA.

            Before ’84 the NCAA didn’t negotiate, they simply dictated the terms about the number of games on TV. Oklahoma won the right to not be bossed around like that, but instead conferences began to negotiate TV rights rather than individual teams*. It’s the conferences that also make the bowl arrangements and determine most of a team’s schedules.

            * – May not apply to Notre Dame or Texas.

  22. commie atheist says:

    Does Johnny Manziel being a rich, entitled white kid have anything to do with it? A sportswriter named Jen Floyd Engel wrote a column comparing Manziel to Rosa Parks. Yes, Rosa Parks. A few years earlier, she had called Terrelle Pryor, who is black, a “terrorist” for accepting free tattoos and other perks. She also said this:

    Whatever your argument against suspending Pryor — the rules are arcane and hypocritical, athletes should be paid, the NCAA is fraudulent and obsolete — none justifies his wanton disregard for his teammates and his school or entitles him to walk away without being nicked by a mess of his creation.

    Please also stop with the “he’s a catalyst for change” meme.

    Compare and contrast to what she said about Johnny “Rosa Parks” Manziel:

    What kick-started change was an average, everyday woman named Rosa Parks, who had grown tired of being tired. Hers was not the first protest, nor was it particularly the best. It was merely the tipping point for many Americans long since tired of these immoral laws.

    On a much less historically significant scale, so it is with Johnny Football — and no, this is not intended in any way to compare the vast evil of Jim Crow to an incompetent NCAA investigation, or to slings from TV commentators.

    It is intended to say, wrong is wrong.

  23. Steve S. says:

    One more time:

    Texas A&M and the NCAA have zero capability of forcing Johnny Manziel to play football for “free”.

    Zero. Zip. Nada. None.

    Manziel is, in fact, being exploited and is playing football, not really for free” but for far less than his fair value, but for some bizarre reason the liberal blogosphere never, ever blames the actual culprits. Manziel is in fact being exploited by a cartel of billionaires and ignored by a disinterested union of millionaires who should be on his side.

    Certainly, we should expect billionaires to act in this fashion and large institutional structures like colleges and unions to act in the ways that they are acting; not approve, but expect. But why does the liberal blogosphere insist, to the point of monomania, on refusing to blame the actual perpetrators of the exploitation?

    • Brien Jackson says:

      Because the NFL’s rules have nothing to do with the refusal of a billion dollar business venture refusing to pay its players, most of whom wouldn’t have a job in the NFL during that time period anyway.

    • Porternator says:

      Hey, I’m all for the NFL removing their age restriction too. But if a player tries out for a pro team, and decides he’d rather go to college instead, I don’t think that should cost him his scholarship. The rules on “eligibility” and “compensation” are the issues at hand. While there are other issues, some of them related such as the one you refer to, that was the topic being discussed.

  24. njorl says:

    Once the last remnants of traditional conferences are shattered in football, the schools which make money can form a set of conferences which offer paid football internships to prepare players to play professionally and compete exclusively against each other. Once the money making teams are isolated and paying their players, I think it would be fine if the other schools – which lose money fielding teams – insisted upon amateur rules.

  25. Mocasdad says:

    I’m no fan of the NCAA, but there are a couple of points worth at least condidering.

    1) Div. 1 FB and BB pay for all other men’s AND women’s sports programs. I’m not saying a lot of pockets aren’t being lined with big 2 sports profits, but it’s not the least bit unlikely that paying star athletes could severely damage other sports programs or contribute to their elimination. Already, those programs are under attack.

    2) Schools with successful sports teams significantly increase the applicants per openings ratio, which in turn allow the schols to become more selective (and attract better faculty) – or, to expand enrollment. Or both. My ho hum 1265 SAT would have readily gotten me into Georgetown in 1968 – a non-legacy friend with a much lesser score and GPA was easily accepted. John Thompson’s success contributed to shortcutting Georgetown’s metamorphosis into elite academic institution.

    3) let’s not pretend the best players aren’t already being paid.

    4) saying the players should be paid opens up a pandora’s box full of vexing questions, including but not limited to: a) what’s the pay scale – should the punter get as much as Manziel, or is there a tiered system? b) is whatever pay system that’s devised to be consistent across Div. 1 schools, or is it wild west chaos? c) are athletes in non-revenue producing sports also to be paid d) if we’re paying athletes, is that on top of the full boat tuition/room+board packages (easily worty $40k and up per year) they now get in the big 2 sports.

    Personally, I’d have no problem if ALL college sports went to the D3 model. My son was a three-season athlete at a D3 school, got his spending $ via work study, and had academic counselors who helped him maintain a 3.5 GPA. The WS and ACs were available to students throughout the student body, btw. What he gained from athletics were all the obvious bennies – competition, teamwork, sportsmanship, etc, plus an instant social network thay has produced a large # of lifelong friends.

    Finally, in response to the above vituperation re Paterno: Joe’s response was certainly woefully insufficient, but let’s be careful about attaching too much (or any) credence to any document bearing the name Freeh. I have no problem with Paterno’s rep being destroyed, statue removed, etc. He reported what he’d been told, but left it in the hands of others when he should have stepped up himself to safeguard children. All beyond dispute. But, let’s not lose sight of the fact that he probably more than any other person helped build PSU into an outstanding university (see #2 above), demanded nose to the grindstone devotion to academics and donated a fortune to the PSU library. He displayed a horrendous lack of judgment and resolve, but to call him a “piece of shit” attaches no value to all the good he did – arguably orders of magnitude more than all commenters on this board combined.

    I say this as someone whose family has experienced the unimaginabe devastation of child sexual abuse

    • Brien Jackson says:

      Concern trolling AND won’t someone think of poor JoePa all in one post. That, my friends, is playing to win.

      • Mocasdad says:

        Ahh, the trusty if unimaginative concern troll accusation. It often issues from people with poor reading comprehension and impulse control problems.

        • Brien Jackson says:

          You are certainly welcome to explain how this:

          saying the players should be paid opens up a pandora’s box full of vexing questions, including but not limited to: a) what’s the pay scale – should the punter get as much as Manziel, or is there a tiered system? b) is whatever pay system that’s devised to be consistent across Div. 1 schools, or is it wild west chaos? c) are athletes in non-revenue producing sports also to be paid d) if we’re paying athletes, is that on top of the full boat tuition/room+board packages (easily worty $40k and up per year) they now get in the big 2 sports.

          isn’t concern trolling. Or why you repeated the discredited line that football and basketball pay for everything else (or, ya know, why that’s relevant!). Or, heh, why we should THINK ABOUT JOEPA!!!!!

          • mocasdad says:

            First of all, this is a website presumably aimed at least in part at the legal profession, which is based on an adversarial system. Hence, the idea of concern trolling would seem to be anathema. So, there’s that.

            Let me make this simple for you:

            My observations are that:

            1) Div. 1 college sports are irredeemably corrupt, especially in the big 2 revenue producers

            2) a D3 model would, in a perfect world, be the ideal. That would largely render NCAA unnecessary. Everyone knows NCAA is a cesspool that demands accountability from others but none from itself. That, by definition, is corruption. I’d be happy if the org disappeared tomorrow

            3) However, that will not happen because too much money’s at stake, not just because of what schools rake in from the games, merch, broadcast rights etc, but also because

            4) bigtime sports success often = school prestige which can help universities prosper and grow in previously referenced ways outside realm of sports. Thus, the corrupt college presidents need some type of org to look like it’s doing something noble when in fact it’s a flim flam operation from which they all benefit

            5)while some college presidents may actually be interested in maintaining integrity, most are just more interested in preventing other schools from getting over on them too blatantly, thus a system of often contradictory and capricious rules that would confound most legal scholars

            So, what to do? The new meme is, let’s just pay the players. Problem solved. However, IMO it’s not an easy solution, and may quite possibly (I’d suggest inevitably) lead to even worse corruption.

            I have no problem with players selling autographs. I have no problem with them getting some cut out of jersey sales. But, again, not simple solutions.

            The autograph business is rife with corruption. What to do about that? Shouldn’t schools try to protect their assets from unsavory associations. Maybe there need to be some rules about that.

            Players are already receiving huge in-kind payments; ask any non-athlete graduating with student loan debt that for too many will dog them their entire life. So, is that commpletely ignored when figuring out what johnny football should get from jersey sales, especially when he has no skin in the game re: manufacturing, marketing, related accounting and other costs? If players want to set up their own businesses selling their merch, I’d have no real objection to that but that obviously isn’t going to happen.

            All I’m saying is, it’s not as easy as people would suggest; I’d like to see some thoughtful ideas put forward rather than simply, “pay the players, give them a cut of merch sales, etc.”

            BTW, if the notion that big time sports pay the freight for non-revenue sports has been discredited, maybe you could point me toward that info. I’m unaware of it but that doesn’t mean you’re not correct.

            My thoughts on Paterno stand as stated. Cite me any defense I made for him regarding the child sex scandal. You can’t. But just like you and me, he was not a one dimensional person, and his good works deserve to be remembered.

            “Enabling piece of shit” is a huge part of the job description for big time college coaches. Examples abound (though I’d argue Paterno was an exception re his players). One of the worst examples in my memory was Tom Osborne’s turning a blind eye to savage and relentless abuse of women. Violence against wome in a horrible scourge in this country and elsewhere. However, I’d never try to sum up Osborne’s career with that failing, and I’ve never seen anyone else do so.

            • Brien Jackson says:

              “If players want to set up their own businesses selling their merch, I’d have no real objection to that but that obviously isn’t going to happen.”

              And here I was going to treat you seriously. As it turns out, I was giving you too much credit assuming that you were a concern troll and not actual dumb as a box of rocks.

    • Porternator says:

      1) Why should being able to run fast determine your qualification for free higher education, and not, say, some combination of demonstrated academic ability coupled with a lack of resources?

      2) Um, yes? If the point here is that sports is valuable to the University, well, yes, that’s exactly the point. I bet an economist could even figure out roughly how much that non-monetary benefit is approximately worth.

      3) Some almost certainty are being compensated in some fashion. But this is just, to use the metaphor from leaving stupid laws on the books for some arbitrary and capricious prosecutor to come along and use, like leaving a loaded gun lying around. If you don’t get caught, fine. If you do, well, you shouldn’t have broken the stupid rules! And now the entire team and school are going to be punished, costing god knows how much.

      4) Yes, determining the salaries will be hard. So let’s just not do it at all! Saves everyone a lot of time, really. I mean, math is hard guys, and we all know these jocks just want to hit people and don’t care about your stupid numbers.

      Me personally, I think the D3 model is the right way to go for most sports for most schools. BUT, for various historical reasons, D-1 football at about ~70 universities is really, really valuable. Billions with a B per year valuable. I don’t think anyone is walking away from that. And the current system is certainly the wrong way to handle it.

      • mocasdad says:

        I’m fine with all you said. All I want to see is a thoughtful set of ideas that attempt to envision and pre-empt the inevitable corruption that would arise from paying players, cutting them in on merch sales, letting them sell autographs, etc. Simply saying let’s do all that and imagine there won’t be problems is utterly simplistic and unworthy of intelligent discussion.

        • Brien Jackson says:

          All I want to see is a thoughtful set of ideas that attempt to envision and pre-empt the inevitable corruption that would arise from paying players, cutting them in on merch sales, letting them sell autographs, etc.

          Facts most definitely not in evidence. Trollalalalalalala.

        • Richard Gadsden says:

          Do you think that pro sports are corrupt?

          Because your “inevitable corruption” line amounts to a statement that they must be corrupt because paying players is inevitably corrupt and they pay players.

    • Desert Rat says:

      Fuck Joe Paterno.

      The son of a bitch was an accessory to sexual assault on minors.

      Fuck those who defend him as well.

  26. Jordan says:

    Well, not video games anymore. The NCAA won’t license EA’s game anymore. The Big 10 and the Pac 10 also won’t license the use of their conferences (but individual member schools still can) or championships.

  27. Nathanael says:

    This is an example of the “quantity is quality” theory of tipping points, which I’ve been espousing in the context of massive violations of the Bill of Rights by the government.

    People will allow a lot, but at some point it’s just *too much*.

  28. [...] after a tipping point, the status quo will always have its defenders. Jon Chait, for example, has a defense of the [...]

  29. [...] of such a movement, but if Paul’s speculation that we may be at or approaching something of a tipping point here, this could be interesting. They’re targeting the lowest hanging fruit, too: I would [...]

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