Funny numbers. Secret scholarships. A brave, principled stand against … hashtags. Welcome back to the Laboratories of Hypocrisy, Sports on Earth's semi-regular roundup of the unfairness, dissimulation and sheer, head-shaking absurdity that characterizes amateur campus sports.
For the previous installment, click here. Otherwise, let's get started …
Maybe you missed it. Maybe you were too busy, you know, checking Twitter or something. In April, the NCAA specifically prohibited the use of "social media designations" on football fields, including URLs and hashtags. As such, bid adieu to #upROAR (Towson), #HAILSTATE (Mississippi State) and #FEARTHEFORK (Arizona State).
The reason for the ban? As a delightfully helpful memo from the association's football rules committee explains, "no advertising" is allowed on college football fields, with the exceptions of:
- The NCAA logo
- Conference logos
- School names and logos
- Team names and logos
- The name of whatever company bought stadium naming rights
- Postseason game title sponsor name and logo
Now, far be it from me to argue that an NCAA rule makes no sense. However, this rule makes no sense. It's absurd on a micro level: Is the association worried that hashtags somehow constitute free advertising for Twitter, a social networking company that isn't listed among the NCAA's official "corporate champions and partners?"
On a macro level, the notion that athletic department-endorsed hashtags constitute the thin red line between noncommercial college sport and the typical European soccer jersey is ludicrous. For one, the NCAA already carves out all sorts of on-field, in-game advertising exceptions, from basketball sneakers to football uniforms to television timeouts to the aforementioned title game sponsors; more to the point, college football itself is basically an enormous advertisement for the increasingly competitive and expensive higher education industry. Viewed without sentiment, athletic departments are actually marketing departments. Teams are brand extensions. Athletes are poorly compensated spokesmodels. A sponsored postseason title game aired in prime time for prime-time rights fees isn't simply commercialized -- it is, in fact, a free-standing commercial.
Here's how it works: In 1984, Boston College defeated Miami on a last-second, game-winning touchdown pass thrown by Eagles quarterback Doug Flutie. Over the next two years, applications to the former school went up by 30 percent. Academics and marketers alike call this "the Flutie Effect" -- that is, the admissions uptick that accompanies high-profile athletic success, like Georgetown's applications increasing by 45 percent between 1983 and 1986, the same period in which Patrick Ewing led the school's basketball team to an NCAA title and national prominence. Numerous academic papers have found that winning big-time football and basketball teams spur increased donor and alumni giving, too, the same way a slick Apple marketing campaign spurs sales of the latest iPhone. When the St. Mary's (Calif.) men's basketball team reached the Sweet 16 of the 2010 NCAA tournament, a study found that the total publicity value to the school was roughly $9.3 million. Last year, Texas A&M estimated that quarterback Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy win earned the school $37 million in media exposure.
A decade ago, Sports Illustrated spoke with Kansas State president Jon Wefald about football's impact:
… during his 17-year tenure, Wefald has overseen the remarkable transformation of Division I-A's all-time losingest program into a perennial top-10 powerhouse, one that has reshaped the morale of an entire community.
"When I got here, there was a sense of futility," said Wefald. "If the old administration had stayed on here for three more years, I think football would have been dropped. We would have no marching band, and we'd be at about 12,000 students today."
Instead, since 1986 Kansas State's enrollment has increased from about 13,000 to 23,000, its fundraising has gone from $7 million a year in '86 to $83 million in 2002-03 and the city of Manhattan's economy has grown exponentially …
In a recent research paper, Harvard marketing professor Doug Chung analyzed the connection between football victories and admissions. He found that:
- A school that improves from mediocre (four wins a season for two years) to great (10 wins a season for two years) in football can expect a 17.7 percent increase in admissions.
- To achieve a similar increase without football improvement, the same school would have to decrease tuition by 3.8 percent or recruit higher-quality faculty who are paid 5.1 percent more than their average peers.
- While students with below-average SAT scores have a stronger preference for athletically successful schools over a longer period of time than students with above-average SAT scores, even the higher-scoring students were positively affected by sports performance.
- Schools that win on the field become pickier when it comes to admitting prospective students.
The upshot? No matter what the NCAA says about collegiate values and the educational mission and blah blah blah, something like Alabama football does not exist so that 85 exceptionally strong and fast young men can earn college degrees; it exists so that potential students and deep-pocketed donors are both aware of and feel good about the University of Alabama. On-field hashtags or no on-field hashtags.
Oh, and along the same lines, Nick Saban isn't actually Satan. He's Don Draper.
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Remember when Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware broke his leg in gruesome fashion, and his medical bills were guaranteed to be covered in full by the school and/or the NCAA?
Wait. That never happened. The guaranteed part, that is. As Meghan Walsh reports at The Atlantic online, the NCAA's Brobdingnagian rules manual contains "more than 400 pages of mandates," but "less than a page regarding health care for its athletes." Schools are not required to finance health care for college athletes, nor are athletic departments required to publish their health care policies in writing.
The result, Walsh writes, is a system that can leave injured athletes out of luck:
… upon joining a Division I team, every participant must have insurance and undergo a medical examination before playing. But when it comes to protecting players, who generate billions of dollars every year, from having to pay unanticipated medical bills or ensuring they receive superior, impartial healthcare, there are no official NCAA provisions in place.
Thus, when a player is injured, nothing prevents the athletic director from refusing to pay related medical bills-which sometimes keep coming for years. Even for those with private insurance, some policies don't cover varsity sports injuries, have high deductibles, or refuse to pay the entire amount due. In such situations, the remaining costs fall to the athlete (many schools, though, do pay those bills) …
… there is also no provision in the Division I Manual to prohibit a coach from revoking a scholarship the year after a recruit gets hurt. For those from poor families and without coverage through a parent, this means that a young man or young woman can be enlisted on the promise of an education, get injured on the field, and lose his or her only source of medical insurance precisely when he or she needs it most …
Walsh tells the stories of former Oklahoma basketball player Kyle Hardrick and South Carolina football player Stanley Doughty, both of whom were -- and this is the appropriate term -- totally screwed by the NCAA's current system. While playing for the Gamecocks, Doughty suffered a serious spinal injury that was misdiagnosed and improperly treated by team doctors; after he was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, team physicians discovered the injury and determined that a single hit in the wrong place could paralyze him for life. His pro career was over. He needed additional surgery. He had no medical insurance. South Carolina wouldn't cover the costs. Similarly, Hardrick hurt his leg during a Sooners basketball practice. Team doctors told him he had a pulled groin muscle. For the next year and four months, Hardrick suffered sharp pain whenever he ran or jumped. He didn't play in games. He ultimately was diagnosed with a severe meniscus tear, and had to pay for surgery with his father's insurance. He decided to transfer, only Oklahoma's athletic director refused to grain him a medical hardship waiver unless his family signed a release stating Hardrick was never injured and that they would never sue the school. He ended up at a Division II school and has endured two subsequent knee surgeries.
According to Walsh, financial records from several of top Division I football schools show that, on average, they spend roughly $1 million on insurance premiums and health care for their entire athletic departments. They could afford to spend more. They could afford to pay worker's compensation claims for athletes who suffer debilitating long-term damage, the same way they are required to pay for coaches, trainers and athletic directors who get hurt on the job. Of course, that would mean admitting that "student-athletes" are actually school employees -- and admitting that the entire bogus concept of the amateur "student-athlete" was specifically created in the 1950s to avoid paying worker's compensation.
So yeah, don't hold your breath. Especially if you're a college athlete. You might damage your lungs, and be on the hook for your hospital costs.
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Every four years or so, the NCAA puts out a comprehensive report detailing the revenues and expenses of Division I athletic departments. And every time, the report paints the same bleak picture, claiming that most schools lose money on sports.
Released earlier this month, the latest NCAA financial report claims that only 23 athletic departments operated in the black last year, generating revenues that exceeded expenses. It also claims that expenses for big-time football schools rose faster last year (10.8 percent increase) than revenues (4.6 percent increase).
Invariably, the NCAA's cry-poor numbers are used to justify college sports' economic status quo. Pay men's basketball and football players? Ha! We can't even afford what we're currently spending! Of course, there's a problem with this argument, and with the math that supports it.
It's utter balderdash.
As I've explained before, athletic departments operate as nonprofit organizations, which means they have: (a) no incentive to spend wisely; (b) lots of incentive to burn through every dollar they generate. The result is a kind of fiscal schizophrenia -- athletic departments operate like regular, bottom line-oriented businesses by spending money to make money, and like Antoine Walker in a casino in that they make money to spend even more. Since amateurism rules prevent the flash flood of cash rushing through big-time college sports from going to athletes in the form of competitive, market-rate salaries, the money flows everywhere else: inflated coach and athletic director salaries; indirect recruiting inducements like fancy weight rooms and swanky jock dorms; unnecessarily high budgets for non-revenue sports. Economists call this phenomenon gold-plating. The NCAA's figures don't account for it. Nor do they adjust for athletic department and intra-university accounting tricks and practices that make profits look like losses: A detailed economic study of Utah State's athletic department in 1988 found that a reported $700,000 deficit was actually a $366,000 gain once said practices were considered; meanwhile, a 2000 study published in the Journal of Sport Management found that 90 percent of big-time football school athletic departments actually made money.
Still, maybe you don't find that compelling. Maybe you buy the NCAA's math and the concurrent notion that big-time college sports are mostly broke. (Maybe you believed in woe-is-us financial pleas from the Florida Marlins and Carolina Panthers, too.) If that's the case, then forget the numbers. Don't listen to what schools are saying. Look at what they're doing.
More important, look what they're not doing.
As economist Daniel Rascher argues in a recent and comprehensive takedown of the NCAA's position -- and please, read the whole thing here -- America just went through a Great Recession. The Ivory Tower wasn't spared. California's university system laid off 4,200 staffers and slashed funding for campus and administrative departments; Arizona universities cut more than 2,100 positions; UNLV alone eliminated more than 700 faculty and staff positions as well as 31 degree programs. Did any Division I schools seek to save money by dumping their football and men's basketball programs? Um, no. Since 2008, 16 schools have joined the D-I basketball ranks, while five schools have entered big-time football. (Two more schools are slated to make the jump next year.)
The University of California, Berkeley is currently investing $153 million into a new multi-sport training facility and $321 million into renovating a football stadium that sits on an earthquake fault line. Texas A&M just announced plans for a $450 million redevelopment of its football stadium, Kyle Field, which school chancellor John Sharp calls "a megaphone to the world." Perhaps these schools are suckers. Or perhaps they understand that big-time football is good business. Examining public data submitted by the then-66 BCS football programs in 2010-11, Rascher found that 61 of those programs turned a collective profit of more than $1 billion -- an average of $18 million per school -- while only three schools lost money (a little less than $8 million combined, about $2.6 million per school).
To put things another way: If Mark Emmet, stockbroker, tells you an IPO is terrible -- while simultaneously buying up as many shares as he can -- are you going to take his word?
By the way, the NCAA reportedly enjoyed a record $70-plus million surplus in the 2012 fiscal year. Not bad for an organization mired in a business model so feeble it can't possibly offer its labor force competitive wages.
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Like a good student-athlete, St. Louis basketball player Jared Drew was preparing for his last exam of the spring semester when a text message appeared on his phone. It was his coaches. They wanted to meet. The Indianapolis Star describes what happened next:
… at the meeting, Drew said coach Jim Crews told him the school was not going to renew his scholarship for next season.
"I was completely blindsided," said Drew, a 2012 Cathedral [High School] graduate who redshirted last season. "I don't believe they handled that situation as well as they could have. (Crews) basically told me I'm not the right fit for what he's trying to do. I'm moving on, though."
Since he redshirted this season and didn't pursue a transfer on his own, Drew said he was planning to appeal the transfer rule that would force him to sit out a year if he goes to another Division I program. He said he wished the staff would have told him of their plans earlier.
"I definitely come away (from Saint Louis) with mixed feelings," he said. "I was coming in with coach (Rick) Majerus and then the coaches that recruited me ended up leaving and coach Majerus passed away" …
As I've discussed before, most college athletic scholarships are not guaranteed for four years. Nor are they predicated on academic performance. To the contrary, they are one-year contracts that coaches and athletic directors can decide not to renew for any reason. Including poor play. Contrary to the NCAA's pro-education propaganda, this is no accident -- it's a direct result of a 1973 rule that explicitly prohibited multi-year scholarships, a rule that was finally changed last year.
According to a report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, many college athletic administrators are less than thrilled with the change. Some schools refuse to give multiyear scholarships. Others give them sparingly. Texas women's athletic director Christine Plonsky even told The Chronicle that she was opposed to four years of guaranteed, no-cost education because the "last thing young people need right now is more entitlement."
In a follow-up report, The Chronicle's Brad Wolverton reports that colleges aren't just loathe to hand out multi-year deals; they're loathe to tell high school recruits that said deals are even an option:
… as part of a separate report on the distribution of multiyear aid in big-time athletics, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interviewed 30 people who could benefit from the longer scholarships, including recruits and coaches. Only 12 of them knew that the awards existed.
Six of the eight Penn State University football players interviewed didn't know there were different types of scholarships, the newspaper found.
"I'm not sure," tight end Brent Wilkerson said. "I hope I'm on scholarship for four years."
One high-school coach told the newspaper that he had never had a parent bring up the issue of multiyear aid. "I'm not sure why the NCAA and the coaches are keeping this a secret," he said. "It doesn't make any sense."
It's unlikely that colleges opposed to giving the longer guaranteed aid will start spreading the word about it. In fact, some compliance officials told us that their institutions have no intention of doing anything with multiyear scholarships unless a lot more athletic departments buy into the approach …
With apologies to the above high school coach, keeping multiyear scholarships a secret makes perfect sense. At least from a school and NCAA perspective. Why pay more for talent than absolutely necessary? Why relinquish power and leverage voluntarily? Why not maintain a negotiating advantage by keeping athletes in the dark?
Here's what needs to happen: High school coaches have to spread the word. Parents, too. Recruits need to listen, and then start: (a) demanding four-year rides; (b) saying no to schools that refuse to offer them. Otherwise, Drew won't be the only college athlete getting unexpected, unwelcome text messages.
* * *
The rich are getting richer. (In other news, water continues to be wet.) According to a USA TODAY Sports report, the new SEC Network will increase the annual television payout to each member school to about $21.5 million. For South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier -- who previously has offered to pay players out of his own pocket -- that's reason to once again ask why athletes in revenue-producing sports aren't getting a larger piece of the pie.
"As the commissioner and the presidents and the athletic directors all say, we are going to make a whole lot more money," Spurrier told The State newspaper. "My question is, 'When are we going to start giving a little bit of it to the performers?' Football and basketball players. It won't do any good probably, but I'm going to still keep yelling for them. They bring in an awful lot of money for all of us."
Not surprisingly, conference commissioner Mike Slive has a different take. At a press conference announcing the network -- a chest-puffing exercise most notable for bringing together 32 SEC coaches, but not a single athlete -- he was asked if the conference might "take a stand on the compensation of student-athletes."
According to a report on AL.com, Slive replied that the SEC has tried to push the NCAA to approve a previously promised $2,000 stipend for college athletes so that their scholarships will come closer to covering the full cost of attendance, "and we'll continue to be an advocate of that."
In 2011, Slive -- a man whose joy-evoking athletic talent has never inspired a single jersey purchase, let alone a lucrative television rights bidding war -- reportedly received nearly $1.6 million in compensation from a conference that is considered a non-profit organization by the Internal Revenue Service. Meanwhile, a study from Drexel University and the National College Players Association found that the average shortfall between a full big-time football scholarship and the true cost of attending school in 2011-12 was just over $3,000.
But anyway. Please continue with the ferocious advocating.
"It's been stalled at the NCAA level," Slive said. "And we're anxious to get it moving again to give our kids a chance to get, at minimum, the full cost of attendance in the form of a scholarship."
College sports: Giving our kids the chance to get the minimum! If the whole
parasitic legal middleman conference commissioner thing doesn't work out, Slive has a bright future in NCAA communications.
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