Friday, December 23, 2011

PAC 12 Football Conference Makes It Official – College Football is Now Pro Football

Education – That’s for Amateurs

When college football first got started in the post Civil War years of the 19th Century it didn’t seem like a terrible idea.  Actually it was a terrible idea, because the game was so rough that serious injuries and even death resulted from play.  It took intervention by President Roosevelt (the Republican one, not the Democratic one) to clean up the sport and make it so that a person could play the game without expectation of a fatal or near fatal injury.

Today college football has become a premier entertainment spectacle, which would be fine if the term “college” was not appended to the term “football”.  Because college football so dominates the college environment, we have tragedies where, for example, it is alleged that a former coach at Penn State was allowed to molest children and the activity was covered up to protect the football program.

The business activity of college football has elevated it into the top tier of entertainment, and now the Pac 12 Conference is taking things to a new level.

the Pac-12 Conference, like college sports as a whole, is changing so rapidly and profoundly that even the people in charge are struggling to describe what it has become. In the two years since Scott took over as commissioner of the conference formerly known as the Pac-10—which includes some of the most prestigious research universities on the West Coast—it has added two new members, the first additions since 1978; negotiated the largest television rights package in college football history, $3 billion over 12 years; and begun the process of building a seven-channel television network.

Note that the Pac 12 is not leading the way, it is a follower, following big time deals with the Big Ten Conference and independent deals with top academic schools like the University of Texas at Austin, and Notre Dame University of South Bend.  The level of money involved is staggering.

The Big Ten is now twelve, the Big 12 has lost three teams but added two, and the Big East Conference has expanded its geographical footprint to include the entire continental U.S. The impetus for this mad scramble is the desire of university presidents and athletic directors to grab a share of the swelling television revenue that comes with major-conference college football, which generated a record $2.8 billion in 2010, according to the Sport Business Research Network, making it the second-most-popular televised sport in America after professional football.

Or course the argument is that a lot of this money goes back to the University to support education, and some of it does, but some of it does not.

Before joining the Pac-12, the Utes were taking in less than $2 million from the Mountain West Conference's television deal. As part of the agreement to join the conference, they'll get about 50 percent of what the other schools receive in the first year of the media deal but they'll eventually pull even.

Utah has some immediate plans for the money. A football center, modestly planned at around $16 million, will now have a few extra touches, bringing the cost to $30 million. Hill said that overall the Utes will focus on closing the gap in facilities, for student support services and for attracting -- and keeping -- quality personnel.

If there's any downside, it's that Utah's overall athletic budget will have to go up now that the school has joined a BCS conference

One imagines that students who are not football players won't even be allowed in the "football center" on the college.  Wouldn't want ordinary students messing with "student athletes".

And the plans, if they go forward of the man at the head of the Pac 12 driving this is that NCAA college football will someday be on the same commercial level as professional football.

these are the first steps in the long, messy march toward what he sees as inevitable: a single football conference consisting of as many as 72 teams, possessing as much negotiating leverage and commercial potential as the National Football League. “The market right now is inefficient. We have too many sellers and limited buyers. Imagine the kind of value we could unleash if there were only one seller. All six power conferences negotiating one deal. That’s where this is going.”

And all of this would be fine if the activity were not degrading the level of education at American colleges and universities.  Despite claims by athletic supporters that college athletics enhances the education process, at its current level it does not.  The student-athlete concept is largely a myth for college football and basketball players.  And the diversion of attention by university administrators from academics to athletics cannot be said to be anything but destructive of education.

Unfortunately, there is not way out of this.  Americans now accept the fact that the mission of the university in U. S. society is to entertain.  Education, well that’s nice too, but only as long as it doesn’t interfere with big time football and basketball.

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