There’s no doubt that the world of college football has become yet another Fortune 500 playground for the rich and powerful. Instead of CEOs, CFOs, and corporate executives vying for a piece of the investment pie, it’s school administrators, athletic directors, and high-profile boosters clamoring for a shot to bring in even more revenue for their respective institutions.
Since the inception of the BCS system, universities have been driven by the prospect of additional funding for both their schools and athletic programs. Heck, even before the BCS adoption big time schools explored all avenues- anything for another dollar. Now more than ever, a school’s entire athletic program is so closely tied to the success of the school’s football team. Power hungry, know-it-all alumni contribute their hard-earned dollars to the success of these athletic programs. Among other things, these donations help build new facilities, and sometimes even find their way back into the hands of these amateur athletes. Like most of their investments, these alumni expect their money to make money.
Why give it away, right? Isn’t the value of their degree linked to the prestige of the school? Today, plenty of that prestige depends on what happens between the sidelines on Saturdays. For those who have graduated from the country’s top football schools, it’s a smart investment. But when does the business of college athletics get in the way of the competition itself? For all intents and purposes, it seems we’re getting dangerously close. For example, reports published following the 2009-2010 college football season indicated that the University of Texas athletic program led the nation in total revenue. No surprise there. Texas routinely dominates the Big 12 in most of the sports in which its teams compete. Naturally, it was a little surprising to me when news surfaced that Texas had contacted the Big Ten about possibly joining the conference- albeit in my opinion, a weaker conference all-around. What’s the motivation for such a switch? It’s all about the Benjamins baby.
Geographically, what does Texas have in common with the other 11 Big Ten schools? Absolutely nothing. Columbus, Ohio, home of the Buckeyes, is the closest school to Austin.
Texas sure seems a little out of place. But, when you consider the Big Ten has its own TV network- the Big Ten Network- which would provide a significant revenue boost to the Longhorns, a possible conference switch is understandable. Now, I know that isn’t the only reason Texas is exploring the move, but I can say with quite a bit of confidence that nearly most of the motivation is revenue related.
We’ve seen alumni react angrily to Mike Leach’s firing at Texas Tech, threatening to discontinue their contributions. We’ve seen fans angered with former Kansas coach Mark Mangino, who was fired amid allegations he mistreated players. But the bottom line is this. If Tech can put together an impressive season next year, the alumni will continue to donate. If Mangino had been winning, the Kansas family probably wouldn’t have called for his firing. As far as Texas is concerned, what more do you have to gain? It’s like Bill Gates winning the lottery; uncalled for, utterly confusing, and downright maddening.
It’s human nature to want to get on the bandwagon. Alumni are smart enough to know a good thing when they see it. In Texas’ case, alumni seem to be mailing in blank checks with notes that read, “Help yourself.” More and more, college athletics is becoming a high stakes game. So many people have a vested interest; it’s hard to please everyone. But we’re beginning to overlook the athletes themselves. Let’s let the athletes make the headlines, not the boosters.