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Monday, January 29, 2007

Today the Detroit News speculates on Michigan's twelfth opponent for 2007. (Eastern Michigan, previously scheduled to open the season, has agreed to move into Michigan's Oct. 6 bye.) The proposed answer is not -- as had been vaguely hoped in this space before -- the first half of a home-and-home or two-for-one with a mediocre BCS team with upside like UNC, but a rerun of a show we didn't want to see all that much in the first place: Vanderbilt. While blowing the Commodores to kingdom come will totally shut up all those SEC partisans, it lacks any conceivable benefit down the road and finishes a Michigan OOC slate with no, count 'em, no road games.

Why are we doing this? Bill Martin answers:

One of the drawbacks of a 12-game regular season for Michigan is negotiating with opponents who want the Wolverines to schedule a home-and-away series. For the Wolverines, the idea is to play as many games at home and score big paydays of several million dollars each Saturday at Michigan Stadium.

"We need eight home games in order to pay the bills," Martin said.

This is obviously a lie. Michigan did not require eight home games to pay the bills when the NCAA maximum was an eleven-game regular season. Unless Michigan is up and canceling the remainder of the Notre Dame series they will face the terrifying possibility of a mere seven home games next year. This is "need" in the same way that Imelda Marcos "needed" 3,000 pairs of shoes. (Woot outdated Bloom County-era reference!) But no matter my protestations, I will face two tickets next year that say "Eastern Michigan" and "Best Case Scenario: Vanderbilt" that each cost something near 100 dollars.

There's no way around it: I'm a sap. A mark. A rube. The dirty Victorian era ne'er-do-wells in the athletic department have entwined me in a confidence scheme. (They call me "guv'nor" to my face, though.) This is part of the charm of college football. Of all sports, it is the sappiest, the rube-iest, the sport with the most frothing partisans so dependent on the not-all-that-metaphorical drug of sport that they'll put up with the shoddiest treatment imaginable just to get their junkie hands on a ticket to That Game. But I, and everyone else in the civilized world, is repulsed by the results of our explotation: seat licenses. Games against Appalachian State. Endless televised beatdowns that have all the competitive thrill of Christians vs. Lions. Complete mystery when the Dumbest Playoff Ever rolls around and is usually forced to pick between two to four opponents indistinguishable because of the aforementioned Christians-Lions matchups.

And for what? For who? Where are all the skyrocketing television fees complete with extra commercials that used to be, you know, gameplay going? Where are the PSLs going? Where is my ticket to Eastern Michigan going?

This guy. Basically. One might be forgiven for thinking that the NCAA has ceased to be an actual regulatory organization and is instead a highly complex scheme for funneling money into Nick Saban's Scrooge McDuck vault, where he puts on an old-fashioned unitard bathing suit and gleefully leaps into his piles of gold coins. And it's not just Saban. This relatively ancient Bloomberg article from March 2005 takes a look at the increase in NCAA coaching salaries across the board from '97 to '03 and finds that average compensation went up 89 percent in just six years. This is before the twelfth game. (Though it's noted that there were some twelfth games in there. That was a calendar quirk and not permanent policy, however.) This is before 3-2-5e. This before Superfluous BCS Bowl and The Two Teams With Six Wins Each bowls. This includes the obscurest coaches you can think of, like Romanian Buffalo Polo.

Eighty-nine percent in six years.


This would all be fine if this was a professional enterprise and the engines driving the revenue growth were sharing in the bounty. And it might even be fine as a collegiate, "amateur" enterprise if literally every relevant decision made by the NCAA and its member schools over the past decade had not been made in an effort to maximize the hell out of said revenue at any cost. This year in college football we had the dual spectres of 3-2-5e and a twelfth game; taken together the two rules are a giant middle finger to fans. While the twelfth game promised more action for football-starved fans, that "action" was Christians-Lions stuff. Meanwhile, 3-2-5e shaved off 10% of each game in favor of more commercials. End result: same amount of football, one more crappy ticket to buy and two hours more commercials to watch. These are the actions of a non-profit organization with the best interests of student-athletes at heart? No. The NCAA grubs for every dollar it can get, wringing a ludicrously spiraling amount of money out of the average college football fan -- that 89 percent increase in compensation is coupled with a staggering 66 percent increase in revenue -- and for what? The average player is not 66% better off. He still gets the same deal he did in 1950. The average fan is certainly much worse off, being milked for PSLs and Vandy-At-Best exhibitions. The only people benefiting are already excessively-compensated coaches and ESPN, because ESPN always benefits.

The NCAA can do little about the skyrocketing coaching salaries without entering serious Lenin territory, but a few simple changes well within their power would show that they care about something other than the bottom line:
  • Create a hard cap of six home games per year.
  • Repeal 3-2-5e and willfully degrade the value of television contracts by cutting down on interminable commercial interruptions.
  • Drug Ryan Seacrest and secretly give him plastic surgery that makes him look like Abe Vigoda.
  • Force both home and visitor to agree to games played after 3:30.
  • Ban post January 1st bowl games.
These things are all possible, though several coaches may have to wait an extra year or two before getting the final Lexus in their burgeoning luxury car Voltron. These things are also all going to be passed never ever.

I'll leave Lloyd Carr the final word.
"Money … we need to make more money," Carr said, not disguising his sarcasm. "Let's play more games and let's make sure the players are available to play any time, any night, 24/7." ... "I think we've gone down that road and there never will be a return unfortunately," Carr said. "I think the 12th game was just the first of what's going to be a continued growth … we're turning into a professional sport."
(Josh Centor responds to Carr's "rant" -- side note: terming anything you disagree with a "rant" is an irritating rhetorical trick designed to make your opponent look irrational without actually combating his, you know, words and stuff and is to be avoided at all costs -- on the NCAA's DoubleA Zone like so:
The NCAA makes most of its money from its contract with CBS, which pays for the broadcast rights to the Division I men’s basketball tournament, as well as other championship events, such as last weekend’s track and field championship. Conferences and institutions work out the contracts for regular season football games, not the NCAA. Revenue derived from Division I football is quite small for the NCAA. ...

I often defend the NCAA’s need to maximize revenues. With more than 1,000 member institutions with broad-based athletics programs, money is needed to support non-revenue sports. The NCAA sends 94 percent of its revenue back to member institutions. Most of those dollars come from the CBS contract, not from Division I-A football.
Official nickname for Nick Saban around these parts: "Non-Revenue Sports." So he's abdicating NCAA responsibility for the bowl games it sanctions, for the rules it passes, for the I-AA sacrifices it legalizes, and for the twelfth game it authorizes. Obviously something could be done if anyone felt like it. But no one does, and that's sort of the point. Unless he can show that someone other than non-revenue coaches is getting all that maximized revenue, that point is useless as well.)

(EDSBS is exploring this same ugly topic from another angle: recruiting.)