Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Game Is About To Change...

I know it's Thursday in the 2nd weekend of the NCAA's and I should be thinking nothing but hoops right now as we are less than 4 hours away from tip-off, but the MMQ had to make an apperance...

Sue me.

Based on the Federal Judge Ohr’s ruling in the Northwestern case that players are in fact well within the definition of “Employee”, the game of college athletics is about to change…dramatically.  Maybe not quickly, especially at large, public universities, but it is going to change.

While I understand this is a VERY divided topic, even the collective MMQ family can’t come together and have a civil conversation on it.  The Matriarch of the MMQ Clan believes the Student Athlete is getting PLENTY of compensation for the chance to play any sport at the collegiate level. The MMQ believes that while the average student  athlete is getting a great deal in scholarship money and everything that goes with it, the super athlete should be allowed to go out and make his own commercial deals if he’s capable.
On a bit of a side note that hopefully helps you better understand where I’m coming from on this, I believe everything changed for me when in 1972, Title IX forced universities to have equal opportunities for men and women in college sports.  Simply put, you had to have a balance in your collegiate athletic programs of men and women.  Which, on the face of it, makes complete sense.

Until you consider football.  At 85 scholarship players, it is by far the largest participation sport of any other sport on campus.  When I was old enough to understand it all, I argued at the time that I agreed with Title IX.  However, football should be eliminated from the count.  There is no female sport that complements football.  Nothing even comes close.  And if you have to count football, it would deny too many men’s Olympic sports a spot in the Varsity line-up that are traditionally played in collegiate athletics.
Of course, that didn’t happen.  Even though this has to be the most grossly un-fair piece of legislation ever passed…And this is coming from a guy with 2 daughters.  I get the importance of having equal opportunity for men and women…but not when you take away opportunities from men in the process. 

Well, here we are 40 years later and the “success” of Title IX is still being debated and there are some people a whole lot smarter than yours truly that have actually taken my side on this issue.  But, that’s not the point of today’s entry – at least, not in its entirety. 
Did you know that Desmond Howard is not allowed to sign the picture of himself striking the Heismann pose in the end zone on the kick-off return TD against ohio if a fan presents it to him and asks for his signature?  Why not?  He doesn’t OWN THE PICTURE and he is currently being sued because he did exactly that. He signed his likeness on a photo he didn’t own.  But he is countersuing.  Why? He made it.  Without Des, there is no picture.  He was the one that performed the task and scored the TD and won the Heismann.  Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

That’s where I have a HUGE issue with all of this, and that’s only the beginning.
Today, you now have athletic budgets that are literally bursting at the seams with money from donors, ticket sales and TV deals.  How bad has it gotten?  I wrote last September in an earlier MMQ the following:

Another potential land mine that universities and the NCAA alike are going to need to deal with sooner rather than later is the APU “All Players United” movement. Players are finally getting their act together and realizing that the product they are responsible for putting on the field, albeit through the organization, branding, and effort of the parent institutions that they are playing for, is worth more to the players because the resulting product is worth a LOT more to the institutions than it’s EVER BEEN in the history of collegiate athletics. A little quick research revealed that the athletic budget for the University of Michigan in 1975 was less than $4,000,000. That’s not a typo….$4 million. In 2000, Michigan’s AD budget was $35,000,000. Today, Michigan’s 2013 Athletic Budget is $133,000,000, a 4X increase from 13 years ago. (The BTN alone gives each B1G conference member an annual cash in-flow of $25M and growing) I’m not saying that student athletes, for the most part, aren’t receiving just reward (education, health care, room & board, etc.) while playing for a university in any sport, and that cost annually at Michigan is somewhere between $75K-$100K for each athlete that’s on scholarship. I’m saying that the amount of money involved for the Big 6 Power Conferences has never been greater on a relative basis (money per student athlete), and it doesn’t look like that curve is about to tip in the downward direction. But, instead of coming out and acknowledging that fact, what do a collective of D1 Athletic Directors do instead? They come out in unified voice that Pay for Play is not only wrong, but it will NEVER be part of what is otherwise a highly managed system of integrity…..for the student athletes, of course…by the Universities.

The numbers from above haven’t changed. And what I neglected to mention was that the “employees” of the two biggest money makers for the athletic departments, Football and Basketball (MEN’S), generate or help to generate between 85%-90% on average, the entire athletic budget.
Put simply, you have a very “unbalanced” workforce in the football and basketball programs generating revenue for the university athletic departments. 

Now, I have heard the universities arguments and in the spirit of fairness, I will put one of them here:  Without the institutions and the brand of these universities, there would be no income for these individuals.  In other words, these 18-22 year olds could not go out and start their own “Developmental Football League” and expect to generate any interest or for that matter, revenue due to the fact that there wouldn’t be any fan interest.  I will give the universities this point.  Bravo.  Without the institution, the kids would just be good football players waiting to go pro killing time in a developmental league. 
But, and I will cite the Ivy League for my example, with just a bunch of average student athletes, and by average I mean average athletically, these institutions would not be vying for the National Championships and undefeated seasons that they all desperately want.  So, the university “needs” the capable student-athlete (again, in the athletic sense) in order to be able to generate the revenue streams and maintain the fan interest that they enjoy today  - which pays the bills for ALL the other athletic programs within the university.  In this case, the universities need them more than they need the university.

Point to the Student Athlete.
Oh wait - You're not convinced?  Okay, let's probe a little deeper.  What the universities have allowed to happen is the same thing that happens in any capital endeavor where the demand is constant and the need to feed the corporate beast cannot be contained:  In a word, GREED.  I define corporate greed as the greed that occurs at every level in the corporate process.  From the consumer, to the worker making the goods all the way up to the CEO who gets stock options.  But now you have it in the most heralded of all institutions:  College Universities.

Why did Michigan add luxury boxes?  Why does the football calendar allow for 12 games when there only used to be 9?  Why were more bowls added to a system that originally had 1 (a hundred years ago) and then slowly built up to 4 and now stands at 37?  Why did bowls go from a break-even proposition to a $25M payout for the National Championship?  Why did ticket prices go from $10 in the 1970’s to $100 to $120 for premium games in 40 years (a 10x increase)?
The University BRAND did all that? REALLY?

The product on the field and the athletes participating had NOTHING TO DO WITH ANY OF THAT???
Excuse the MMQ while I reset the BS meter….

Why SHOULDN’T the Student Athlete that helps generate this revenue get something out of it?  Or should I say, something more out of it then their education especially if they are the ones who are directly affecting the increase in revenues??  And more importantly, they are the ones putting themselves in harm’s way and taking the risk?
I’m not denying a collegiate female cross country runner the opportunity to go out and get a shoe endorsement.  Or a golfer to go out and endorse Titleist.  In fact, I would encourage her to do just that.  But the same should go for a kid like Denard Robinson who’s best endorsement opportunity(s) was during his 4 years at the University of Michigan.  We all thought that his chances in the pros would be marginal at best.  Yet, Denard was denied an opportunity to capitalize on his likeness and his ability while he was in his prime.

That’s Wrong…In so many ways.  Just like Desmond not being able to autograph a picture of himself 20 years after the fact.
If this ruling helps get that and all these problems fixed or at least on the road to being fixed…I’m all for it.

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