The era of college football megaconferences is just around the corner. Who stands to win and lose? | college football

It’s the year 2032. Finally, humans have landed on Mars.

Back on Earth, US sports fans have a simple question: Are the Martian colonies in the Top Ten or the SEC?

Back here in 2022, the distance traveled is already leading to astronomy, and the gravitational pull of the college sports “mega conference” is endless. UCLA and USC (the California one, not the Carolina one, though the latter would make a little more geographical sense) left the Pac-12 – supposedly for the team on the Pacific coast – to join the increasingly inaccurate Top Ten. (which will have 16 members by the time UCLA and USC arrive in 2024).

This is a move that is entirely driven by marketing money. The Top Ten — whose existence is largely based on teams in the midwest — are at the top of some giant TV deals, and southern California is an attractive market.

And UCLA and the Big Ten need money. The Top Ten pays its members more money than any other conference, according to research firm Navigate, but Covid is crushing some schools’ thin budget surpluses. In 2021, many schools recorded eight-figure losses, according to data compiled by the Knight Commission and Syracuse University. Meanwhile, UCLA lost more than $62 million in 2021, bringing a three-year deficit of more than $103 million. (USC, as a private university, does not make its books available to Knight/Syracuse researchers.)

But who really benefits here? And who lost?

Winner: Big Football Budget

Division I football, the top tier of collegiate games, has long been divided into two subdivisions. They were previously known as Division IA and Division I-AA, but are now called “Bowl Football Subdivisions” (teams that can play in national championship bowling and playoff games) and “Football Championship Subdivisions” (teams that can play in national championship tournaments). lower level). Division IA was later split into the elite “Five Forces” (ACC, Top 12, Top Ten, Pac-12, SEC) and “Group Five” conferences. It’s not a complete split, but Group of Five schools rarely break the top bowling or playoff games, and Power Five schools have a degree of economic autonomy that other schools don’t have.

Could we see a “Power of Two” any time soon as the SEC – made up of southern powerhouses like Alabama and Georgia – and the Big Ten grow in strength? Unless the other three conferences can play defensively, huh.

The SEC, which will add Texas and Oklahoma by 2025, is projected to pay each of its member schools US$105.3 million per year by 2029, according to Navigate projections. The Top Ten had been projected to pay $94.5 million before adding that lucrative West Coast interest. The other three “Power Five” conferences – ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 – are in the $51 million-$57 million range. The Big 12 brings together three of the highest-paying Group of Five schools in Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston, along with powerhouse private school BYU. The ACC and Pac-12 are seeking some kind of partnership, according to several reports.

Losers: Everyone who missed the megaconference

Not everyone wins the game of musical chairs. The ACC has a solid long-term deal with its members, but can the deal last if its current and former soccer powerhouses (Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech) or its largest basketball schools (North Carolina, Duke) need to be pacified? Does the Big 12 need to do more after losing Texas and Oklahoma, two of the only schools whose total income rivals that of their future SEC compatriots? And what options does the Pac-12 have?

Any school left behind in a crumbling conference will not have the revenue to keep up with the teams spending big bucks on the football field. And the Group of Five schools may have a narrow window to follow Cincinnati and company into the big leagues.

Football is expensive. Facilities, including a large stadium that is rarely used outside of six home football games a year, are just a few. The other part is the staff. Clemson’s football staff includes a senior administrative assistant to the head coach and an administrative assistant to the head coach. In Alabama, offensive line coaches make $900,000 a year (women’s soccer coaches earn $162,000; schools don’t offer men’s soccer). The State of Florida has six “senior analysts” or “analysts”.

Those who have money can spend money. Which can’t yet. In 2021, the typical (median) Power Five school spent $25.9 million on the gridiron, according to the Knight/Syracuse database. The median Five School Group spent only $9.4 million. As college sports’ Gini coefficients spiral upward like an electric meter on a hot summer’s day, any school that doesn’t fall in the Power of Five/Three/Two has virtually no chance of competing, meaning the soccer team will be a millstone in the athletic budget. .

Winner: Airline and charter flight operator

It’s not just the UCLA soccer team that will make the occasional trip to the East Coast to take on Rutgers or Maryland. There are basketball teams, volleyball teams, softball teams, baseball teams, and so on.

Loser: Classwork

Sure, the pandemic and remote work are helping us redefine what it means to attend class. But the extended travel schedule at a major conference taking place in the US will make it difficult for students looking to combine sport with heavy academic workloads in majors such as engineering and pre-medicine.

Losers: Opportunities for soccer players

Imagine you are a college president at school who is not at one of the major conferences. You’re looking at the red ink of your soccer program. With Title IX gender equality lawyers breathing down your neck, you should consider adding women’s rowing and women’s riding to balance the numbers. What keeps you from cutting the football team?

Mix: Other sports

Unlike soccer, basketball is relatively inexpensive. Basketball teams, including the increasingly popular women’s teams, can be moneymakers, and schools like Gonzaga, Villanova, and Butler have shown that smaller schools can play Big Basketball without playing Big Football.

But basketball generally doesn’t make enough money to pay for everything else. In addition to the Ivy League, which does not directly pay scholarships for sports, several schools outside the Power Five have strong overall sports programs.

As football money thickens at the top of the pyramid, some schools may need to reevaluate the idea of ​​awarding scholarships or preferential admissions to athletes who don’t add more to the student body than journalists or cellists. Advocates of collegiate sports will worry that student-athletes will have fewer opportunities to learn valuable lessons about teamwork and competitiveness, but those lessons can also be learned in non-university club sports.

Loser: Fans

College sports are built on folklore and competition. In football, that rivalry can span across continents. But in basketball, conference tournaments have been the scene that dominates the conversation in the region. Imagine if North Carolina followed football money to a conference where its basketball team was separated from its old rival, Duke.

So how do we preserve some of the semblance of what makes collegiate sports great?

Let Big Football create its own map. Want a combined ACC and Pac-12 for soccer? Well. But then it is subdivided into smaller groups based on competition and regional travel for the rest.

Then make Big Football fund the Big Sports program. Allow top schools to do whatever they want as long as they fund a complete Olympic sports program, reverse the trend of cutting men’s programs in particular and give future Olympians a solid development platform at 50, 60, maybe 80 schools. That may include a waiver for Title IX’s gender balance ratio, which allows them to add men’s sports as long as every women’s Olympic sport is offered.

That would ensure collegiate sports work for athletes – which is theoretically the point. And all the viewers who depend on this giant megaconference media deal will have something worth watching.

The era of college football megaconferences is just around the corner. Who stands to win and lose? | college football

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