Opinion | George F. Will: College football realignment is bad but good

With another season underway, suspend your Pecksniffian disapproval of the recent upheavals in the college football industry. It is, the authors explain, about “values”. Also, sometimes worse is better.

The Big Ten had 10 schools and a Midwestern identity until 1990, when it added Penn State from the wrong side (as Midwesterners see things) of the Alleghenies. In 2011, Nebraska joined, then Maryland and Rutgers in 2014, adding the Washington-Baltimore and New York media markets. Last month, the Big Ten added its 15th and 16th teams, UCLA and the University of Southern California. Soon, student-athletes at the conference will have the advantage of long flights (the distance from Rutgers in New Jersey to Los Angeles: 2,800 miles) during which they can do their molecular biology homework.

USC’s athletic director said “our values ​​align” with the Big Ten. The UCLA AD (whose department is $102.8 million in debt), said this realignment was done “for the good of our student-athletes.” Last year, both schools received $19.8 million in Pac-12 revenue. The Big Ten schools each received $46.1 million, a seemingly insignificant sum now that the conference has signed a seven-year, $7 billion television deal after the expansion. Last year, each of the SEC schools received $54.6 million, before the added glamor of Texas and Oklahoma.

The expansion was likely sparked by last year’s decision by Texas and Oklahoma to jump from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference.

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Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren says his conference is being “innovative,” “creative,” “bold,” “strong” and “powerful” so it can “prioritize what’s important to our student-athletes.” The expansion will put “our student-athletes” on “a bigger platform for them to build their careers.”

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In 2019, the NCAA estimates, the NFL drafted 11 percent (197) of the 1,769 eligible players from the Power Five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC). Getting drafted hardly guarantees a spot on the NFL roster; the average NFL “career” lasts 3.3 years.

When Warren says the expansion prioritizes what’s important to student-athletes, he says the most important thing to them is the financial windfall of the revamped conference, which won’t affect student-athletes. Many school and conference officials have been horrified because, they say, the appeal of college athletics hinges on its perception of “amateurism,” which is allegedly in jeopardy because players can now monetize their names, likenesses and likenesses through sponsorships worth , In most cases. cases, a few thousand dollars.

As of 2020, in 40 states, the highest-paid public employee was a Division I college football or basketball coach. Michigan’s three highest-paid public employees are the Michigan, Michigan State, and Western Michigan football coaches; in Florida, it’s the Florida, Florida Atlantic, and Central Florida football coaches; in Kentucky, they are the trainers in Kentucky, Louisville and Western Kentucky. University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has a base salary of $110 million over 10 years. Reportedly, more than $100 million lured Lincoln Riley away from conference-switching Oklahoma to conference-switching USC.

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Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney just signed a 10-year, $115 million contract extension. Players are on the move, sometimes following their migrating coaches. In the past 12 months, more than 2,100 players from the 131 schools in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, the premier programs, entered what the NCAA calls the “transfer portal,” which facilitates job mobility to serve to the college football industry.

The recent conference shakeup likely heralds the rise of two superconferences: Clemson and Miami could exit the ACC, taking much of their prestige with them. Clemson’s coach ($9.3 million a year) and Miami’s coach ($80 million over 10 years) can’t relish the prospect of trying to recruit top-tier talent for a second-tier conference.

The new landscape of industry, littered with the smoldering ruins of burned-out traditions, was produced by cold economic reasoning, as befits industrial management. Lubricated by an unsentimental disregard for historical rivalries, this arrangement should at last silence the increasingly ridiculous claim that major college football programs are anything other than entertainment giants.

George Cross, the president of the University of Oklahoma (1943-1968), was perhaps joking when he said, “We’re trying to build a university that our football team can be proud of.” Jokes are not normal in big companies.

Now, the college football industry has announced that it will triple the number of teams eligible for the postseason playoffs to 12. Mark Keenum, president of Mississippi State University, says that while there will be additional revenue “available” (a funny phrase), the motivation is a greater opportunity for student-athlete participation. They will wrap up the extended playoffs in time for spring football practice.

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