Wednesday, December 31, 2014

College Football, Awash in Money, More Like Professional Sports Than Higher Education

You don't say?

At NYT, "What Made College Football More Like the Pros? $7.3 Billion, for a Start":

After taking a sociology exam, Cardale Jones, a quarterback at Ohio State, posted a message on Twitter that echoed across college sports: “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS.”

Two years after publishing that provocative statement, Jones will be the starting quarterback on Thursday against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the second semifinal game of college football’s new playoff system — and his words have renewed relevance. Never has the sport been so awash in money, a growth industry on campuses that some observers believe increasingly resembles professional football more than higher education.

In some ways, even the N.F.L., that $10-billion-a-year enterprise, might be struggling to compete. The University of Michigan on Tuesday introduced its new coach, Jim Harbaugh, who left the N.F.L.’s San Francisco 49ers to join the Wolverines. His base salary — $5 million annually for seven years with 10 percent increases after three and five years — will eventually amount to more than what he was earning in the N.F.L.

Harbaugh will have one of the highest base salaries in the country. The highest-paid college football coach at around $7 million this season was Alabama’s Nick Saban, who also chose to leave a head coaching position in the N.F.L., in 2007, for the riches of the college ranks.

“When you hear presidents and athletic directors talk about character and academics and integrity, none of that really matters,” said Mack Brown, a longtime coach at Texas who is now a television analyst. “The truth is, nobody has ever been fired for those things. They get fired for losing.”

Harbaugh, like most college football coaches, will receive bonuses. His incentives come for reaching the Big Ten championship game ($125,000), winning the Big Ten championship ($250,000), reaching a College Football Playoff bowl ($200,000), playing in the four-team national championship playoff ($300,000) and for team academic performance (up to $150,000). Winning a national title would bring him $500,000.

The story of college football’s gold rush can be told through television contracts. Under the championship playoff format that began this season, ESPN is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years to telecast seven games a year — four major bowl games, two semifinal bowl games and the national championship game. (In the first semifinal on Thursday, Oregon will play Florida State in the Rose Bowl; the title game is on Jan. 12.)

Each of the five major conferences — the Southeastern, the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific-12, the Big 12 and the Big Ten — will see its base revenue increase to about $50 million, from about $28 million under last season’s system. The base revenue will nearly triple for the five conferences that make up the next tier of college football.

The playoff is such a profitable showpiece that many believe it will be expanded to eight teams or more. On Tuesday, the top-selling college item on was a T-shirt depicting the playoff bracket.

“College football is growing closer and closer to being like the N.F.L.,” Brown said...