Monday, October 29, 2007

The NYT Makes It Clear Why Very Few Will Make Money on Big Time Football

(and why it is foolish to try…)

The ever vigilant UD has picked up on this article and posted. Mr. B. cherry picks a few choice words for your enjoyment:

October 28, 2007

The Business



Not so long ago, a middle-age freelance speech writer named John Pollack came by my office. Pollack, who once wrote speeches for Bill Clinton, had a bone to pick with the University of Michigan, which he has been rooting for since he was 6.

Michigan Stadium was the reason Pollack stopped by. A few years ago, Bill Martin, Michigan’s athletic director, proposed renovating the Big House for $226 million. Given that it’s 80 years old, the place could use an update. But included in the renovation plans — which the university’s trustees approved earlier this year — are skyboxes and other expensive “premium seats,” something the Big House has never had.

“Michigan doesn’t need to keep up with the Joneses,” he said. “We are the Joneses.” He added, “One of the great things about college football, especially Michigan football, is that it is a great public space — a place where autoworkers and millionaires can come together to cheer on their team.”

Naturally, the new stadiums will have skyboxes, giant television scoreboards, naming rights and all the other “revenue enhancers” that were long thought to be the hallmarks of professional sports franchises. That’s the whole point.

In short, behold the college football arms race, where the rich (like Michigan) continue to get richer and the poor (the University of Central Florida) try to claw their way to a place where they can stand alongside the rich. Given this state of affairs, there is simply no way Michigan is going to be left behind. In Division I football, either you buy into the sports equivalent of mutually assured destruction or you drop out entirely.

Big-time college football is now so divorced from what actually goes on at a university as to be a kind of subsidiary, not even tangentially related to education.

As a result, schools erect the fanciest stadiums, build the most up-to-date weight rooms, fly expensive chartered jets to away games — spend money on all sorts of things — in order to attract the best athletes. “Since the players don’t get paid, you can’t just go out and hire the Tom Bradys of college sports,” Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist who teaches at Smith College, says. “So instead they throw money at everything else.” One of Zimbalist’s favorite examples is the salaries of top college coaches. “They get paid pretty much the same as coaches in the N.F.L., about $2 to $3 million,” he says. “It doesn’t make any sense from a normal economic point of view, because the average revenue of a top-30 college football team is about $30 million, whereas the average N.F.L. team takes in $200 million.” But it happens anyway because when it comes to recruiting, Zimbalist says, schools “want to be able to say that they have a coach with a national reputation, someone who has sent kids off to the N.F.L.”

A similar rationale holds for stadiums, according to Zimbalist: “They say, ‘Come play for us because you will be in an N.F.L.-quality stadium, with a big new scoreboard with your picture shown whenever you make a good play.’ ” But, he adds, while every school builds, or renovates, a stadium with the belief that it will ultimately make money and help defray the cost of the program, this doesn’t happen all that often.

Maybe the best thing that can be said about pouring money into football is that, as Sheldon Steinbach told me, stadium construction is hardly the worst thing that goes on in college sports. “Skyboxes are not the most cancerous elements in most athletic departments,” he says. And what is? His reply: “How about the recruitment of athletes who do not have the ability to benefit from a college education?”

No doubt OurLeader will make sure that the feeding frenzy of our new football recruiter/coach is kept under control and that only academically qualified footballers with a decent chance of graduating will be admitted...

Ciao, Bonzo