Yesterday, we started the conversation of how SEC commissioner Greg Sankey is building a super/mega/all-mighty conference. And there seemed to be a sense that we – you know, the collective we of all football fans not in the SEC - need to do SOMETHING!
But, maybe not.
At what point does "big time football" cross the line from being a reason to miss your daughter’s wedding (‘Because she decided to schedule it on a Saturday when Auburn was home, for heaven’s sake, now I won’t be able to walk my own daughter down the aisle, Martha!’) to just being a major commercial enterprise in an otherwise rural part of the south? Academics, school loyalty, and cheerleaders be damned.
There are those who see the SEC’s current attack – and I use the term intentionally – as an all-out assault on what college athletics is, or perhaps was but could still be. There are those who see the SEC as simply trying to crush everything and everyone around them in hopes of simply becoming the place for "college" football, the rest be damned. Joe Yeager from 247 Sports is pretty blunt in his estimation of the SEC and its motives:
The SEC hopes to annihilate the remaining power conferences by drawing into its lair Michigan and Ohio State of the Big Ten, USC and possibly Oregon and Washington of the PAC 12, and Clemson, Florida State and conceivably North Carolina from the ACC. Should the rumors be true, and should the aforementioned programs give in to the greed, the SEC will stand alone as the unquestioned hegemon of what used to be college football, and the remnants of the former power conferences will be relegated to second-class status.
A two-tier system will be in place, and the gap between the tiers will be large, perhaps even greater than the distinction between FBS and FCS programs today. The NCAA, which has already made clear it no longer has the will to survive, will not be around to provide some semblance of equality before the law, and the only law will be the law of the jungle where the rich do as they please and the poor have no redress whatsoever.
And with the NCAA pretty much waiving the white flag and all but declaring itself dead, who will stop the SEC from doing just that? The NCAA was created back in 1906 through the efforts of President Teddy Roosevelt to save college football from itself. And for a good while, it did just that. Now, it is simply a punching bag for anyone or anything that wants more than the NCAA will allow.
And that’s a real issue. The NCAA is more than the 130 FBS schools. There are another 128 FCS schools, 166 playing D2 football plus the 246 at the D3 level. Which means there are, besides the Power 5 schools, another 540 football-playing schools that Greg Sankey and the SEC couldn’t care less about as they go about their accumulation of power and money. And that’s just for football; what about the thousands of kids playing field hockey or soccer or lacrosse or a bunch of other sports at D3 that earn them not one dime of scholarship money? If the NCAA disappears, who oversees college sports? The NCAA Basketball Tournament is the biggest moneymaker for the NCAA which does, in fact, distribute revenues to the lower divisions. No NCAA, no distribution. Even a D3 program with no scholarships needs income.
We may be approaching an inflection point in college athletics. Okay, we may have already hit it with cost of attendance and NIL issues. But we certainly are reaching a point where the "haves" are becoming even more "have-y" and are looking less and less like places where the term "scholar-athlete", has any meaning. We are at a point where athletes are choosing schools not only because they have a high profile and an opportunity to play "at the next level", but also because the opportunity to cash in now is very, very strong.
And now here’s the plug for college athletics the way it used to be: Is all that cashing in really college athletics? I became a believer in the NIL stuff, maybe because of Geo Baker or maybe because I saw what college coaches were making off those guys’ backs and said, "whoa!" And let’s be honest: college athletics is not…just…football. Not that that has stopped colleges from eliminating all those other sports that don’t play with a prolate spheroid.
MIT – that bastion of high-powered athletics (it’s D3, btw) - sponsors 33 varsity sports. Thirty-three! The University of Chicago, an original member of the B1G’s predecessor Western Conference, sponsors 20, also at the D3 level. By comparison, Ohio State – which can afford it – sponsors 36, 18 men’s and 18 women’s. And that may just be what it all comes down to: what can anyone afford?
If you want to compare conferences and their priorities, consider how many sports they
sponsor. The Pac 12, which has a less than stellar TV deal, sponsors 30 sports, including beach volley ball which I think Rutgers should sponsor, too. But I digress. Then, you have the Big Ten with 28 sponsored sports, the ACC with 27, the Big XII with 23 and, pulling up the rear (obviously because of the weight of all the cash in their duffel bags), the SEC with just 22 sponsored sports. One of which is Equestrian, sponsored by just four conference schools. So, let’s call it 21 ½ sports in the SEC.
Okay, I get the fact that these TV contracts, i.e. football and basketball, pay the freight. It is why the SEC is going after Texas and Oklahoma. But at what point do we say, enough? At what point will university presidents and chancellors step forward and say, "Stop! This isn’t what we’re here for?" Will they? Can they?
Or are they already saying it? We’ll look at that tomorrow.