While college football fans wait for Boise State, Air Force, Navy, Central Florida and a bunch of other schools to accept an invitation from The Big East to join that college/university sports conference which needs to add schools or go into Bowl Championship Series oblivion something else may be happening at big time college sports schools. The players in all collegiate sports may get paid.
Apparently, according to a person in the know, college presidents, provosts and chancellors are thinking of giving “student-athletes” a $2,000 a year salary for their efforts. Athletic Directors seem to think $3,500 is a better stipend but for now the $2,000 figure seems to be right amount of money to spend on players for the Lords of the Ivy Towers.
The players, who are the show, get a scholarship and are considered “student-athletes” for workman’s compensation purposes. The schools really don’t want to deal with athletes who might be injured on the “job” and fight for payment because they are unable to work anywhere because of being hurt. That is why the term “student-athlete” was coined as it shields colleges and universities from paying workingman’s compensation in the event of a severe injury suffered during a game. Injured athletes are useless for the big time sports playing schools.
The presidents, chancellors, provosts and other big time college sports playing schools set the rules and give the athlete very few rights with the threat of the revoking of the scholarship for whatever reason (ranging from a coach doesn’t like a player to flunking courses) hanging over the athlete’s head like the Sword of Damocles.
Athletes are limited in their ability to earn money from jobs if they are on scholarship.
The whole issue of paying the players for their work has been around for years. The thinking around college sports is that players should realize how good they have it and that they are getting a scholarship which pays for their education while they are playing a game. Players should just play and shut up. The thinking has convinced other members of the student body that athletes have it made getting full scholarships — sometimes you need to read comments in sports business management courses blackboard discussions to find out how deep the resentment based on the writings of those paying up to $40,000 annually for schooling — the others students think athletes are privileged.
Paying the players on top of the scholarships will make a certain segment of the student body at various schools even angrier as tuition continues to increase and government aid is taken away by elected officials who apparently think they are gifted in economic theory and practicality.
Meanwhile life in The Big East is evolving. Pittsburgh and Syracuse decision-makers have decided that it is best for those universities to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, leaving behind The Big East.
The colleges and universities left in The Big East need to fill those vacancies as soon as possible and hope that the University of Connecticut and Rutgers remain in the conference. The Big East needs to get football playing schools like Navy ,East Carolina and Central Florida to join up. The Big East, which is being advised by former National Football League Commissioner and Georgetown graduate Paul Tagliabue, had added Texas Christian University to the group last year. But TCU declined membership and joined The Big 12 on October 10, which left Tagliabue and The Big East presidents, chancellors and provosts scrambling to replace the Texas school.
The entire realignment of big-time college sports playing schools is being driven by television. In May 2010 Duke Men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski opined that college sports is in a flux because there is no one in charge like a strong commissioner. Krzyzewski is half-right; there is no central figure in big-time college sports to get the school presidents’, chancellors’ and provosts’ attention.
But there is a central figure dominating the restructuring of big time college sports.
Cable TV is providing big money for programming and one college AD said whatever the TV people decide that’s what we are going to do. So the most important people in calling the shots for the school presidents, chancellors and provosts are the Roger Igers, Brian Roberts’, Jeff Bawkes, Sumner Redstones, David Hills (or Rupert Murdochs) of the world. Iger just re-upped as the head of the Walt Disney Company and is the de-facto head of Disney’s ESPN unit.
As the AD said, TV will remake the conferences. TV as in ESPN, as in Brian Roberts’ NBC Sports Network (the rebranded Versus as of January 2, 2012), Redstone’s CBS whose sports partner is Bewkes and the Time Warner/Turner networks which includes TruTV and TNT and Murdoch’s FOX holdings. The presidents, chancellors and provosts bow and pray to the TV people who endow them with billions of dollars. Hill is the final decision-maker in sports for Murdoch’s FOX and News Corp portfolio.
Where does television get the billions needed to pay rights fees? The answer is from cable TV viewers. As long as ESPN, the NBC Sports Network, USA Network, TruTV, TNT and FOX sports properties are on the basic expanded tier of a cable system they will be able to raise rates from subscribers and pay the bills. As long as Congress does not undo the 1984 cable television legislation which allowed cable operators to bundle various channels and sell them as one to the consumer and give the consumer no option or choice in choosing channels on the basic expanded tier, the television people will spend huge amounts of money for programming. Everyone who has the basic expanded tier is paying for sports programming whether they watch it or not thanks to Congress and President Ronald Reagan’s signature.
The cable operators decide what networks to put on the basic expanded tier, not consumers. The Dolan family’s Cablevision and Time Warner have not added the NFL Network to the basic expanded tier because those entities feel that the NFL Network does not have great value to consumers.
That decision has cost the NFL hundreds of millions of dollars but there may be more to the “does not have great value to consumers” tale. The NFL has sold the entire slate of Sunday games as a package for consumers to DirecTV and bypassed the multiple systems operators and this may be a payback by the cable multisystem operators. Major League Baseball worked with cable TV multiple system operators and gave the cable companies along with DirecTV a piece of the action and landed a plum basic extended tier spot.
The MSOs (multiple systems operators) seem to have no qualms about passing on the cost of the MLB network to all subscribers whether those subscribers wanted the network or not. This helps make sports rights fees the most costly part of the monthly cable TV bill.
The changing landscape of college sports driven by football has some in the college sports industry concerned that Congress will snoop around and start asking questions about the Bowl Championship Series and the conference realignment.
The worry is justified. Congress has given college sports some perks including looking the other way when it comes to collecting taxes from a school or a conference from earnings at a bowl game (which are considered non-profit organizations for tax purposes).
Government and sports are partners. As conferences continue to realign in pursuit of television dollars, conference commissioners genuflect before TV executives knowing that their jobs are on the line (see the Big 12 as an example. The college presidents, chancellors and provosts got rid of Commissioner Don Beebe in September because of the TV money divide between Texas and the rest of the conference and the splintering of the sports conference). Paying the players may be a small concession to make in order to keep Congress from investigating the TV deals, the tax loopholes and the Bowl Championship Series.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business.” His book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at bickley.com, Barnes and Noble or Amazon Kindle.