Parasites of the Gridiron

By Ramzy Nasrallah on May 7, 2013 at 11:30a
Yeah, that's Sela Ward in the middle. Roll Tide.

It's due to America's population migrating south. It's because they pay their coaches more. They're all football factories anyway.

It's because they oversign recruits and chase off the busts. They'll do anything to win. They openly pay for players. They cheat their asses off. They cheat their asses off. They cheat their asses off.

The hot sports take of the college football offseason appears to be a two-horse race between financially compensating college athletes and understanding SEC football dominance. I've grown bored by both topics because I haven't learned anything new for awhile. An SEC program has raised the glass testicle in triumph ever since Jim Tressel took an unsuspecting trip to Glendale with a bunch of satisfied kids very excited about their coronation.

That happened seven seasons ago. We're now circle-jerking the circle-jerk that was installed to complain about the SEC's own circle-jerk. It's as tired as it is tawdry.

Now chief jerker ESPN is creating an SEC network that should transform the conference's already-formidable money hose into a giant cash waterfall, which will undoubtedly energize and turbo-charge that first hot take about finally paying players.

It's an obvious knee-jerk reaction to all of those dollar signs: Pay the players. They're generating billions.

And amidst that burgeoning financial windfall, America's soon-to-be richest athletic conference still continues to soak taxpayers and financially-strapped students to fund its win-at-all-costs athletic department spending. Apparently we're too concerned with paying players to care.

Currently, no major conference spends more on its athletes - and less on its regular students - than the SEC. And no major conference is and will continue to exploit the deregulation of recruiting, which only inflates recruiting costs further.

Conference Median SPending Per Athlete, 2010
SEC $163,931
Big XII $131,286
B1G $116,667
ACC $103,384
PAC Ten $102,121
Big East $102,032
FBS Average $91,936

It's not even a competition - that Florida/Ohio State BCS Title Game was close by comparison: Five SEC athletes cost about the same as seven Big Ten athletes. That works out to a full roster of 85 SEC football players costing as much as 119 of its Big Ten counterparts - if we were only talking about football.

This is the cost per athlete. Those figures also include paying for those less-expensive Buckeye fencers and synchronized swimmers (who are prolific national champions categorically still fitting the NCAA's amateur descriptor that expired for football and basketball players decades ago).

But football still costs the most money, generates the most revenue and carries the flag for the entire brand, which is the most valuable asset for each school - and in this age of deliberately aggregated ESPN viewing audiences, for each conference as well.

Ohio State's athletic department, in supporting varsity sports that are merely distant rumors at most universities, made over $50MM in ticket sales alone during 2011, which included a football season whose enthusiasm was siphoned by scandal.

It earned another $61MM in licensing rights and donations. That's $111MM which by itself could fund every single other athletic department in the country except for Texas and Michigan's while still producing a surplus. That wasn't even all of Ohio State's athletics income. Not by several million.

Conference Median SPending Per STUDENT, 2010
B1G $19,225
Big East $17,620
ACC $15,360
PAC Ten $14,217
Big XII $13,988
SEC $13,390
FBS Average $13,628

Cash is not an issue for the Big Ten, which has six of the 15 most-expensive athletic departments in the country. The SEC, for whom cash shouldn't be an issue either, also has six. Texas, Oklahoma and Florida State are the other three.

Currently, no major conference spends more on its regular students than the Big Ten. It's openly fought against recruiting deregulation in football while still managing to stay competitive, finishing the 2012 season as the fourth-strongest conference behind the SEC, Big XII and just a sliver behind the PAC (now) 12.

But more importantly, as you look at the gaping disparity between the investment in athletes and non-athletes, Big Ten athletics truly separate themselves by how they're funded: By and large, they don't force regular students and taxpayers to fund athletics.

Only Illinois and Iowa still attach fees to student tuition to help fund athletics. Every single other department is self-funded. Huge, mostly-full stadiums help pay those bills. The Big Ten Network is extremely helpful. Smart investments and licensing agreements are as well.

These are all things that the SEC has too, yet every public school except Alabama, Arkansas and LSU charges its students - who are already the least-funded among all major conferences, even ranking below the FBS average - fees to pay for its well-funded athletes.

Alabama and Arkansas take millions out of their own institutional funding to cover athletics' costs, which means America's third and fifth-poorest states use tax money to pay for, basically, college football. Only LSU's athletic department is completely subsidy-free. 

ROLL TIDEOle Miss charged students $2MM to fund sports in 2011.

And yet we're a big ball of furious, fake outrage arguing over paying players while students on financial aid and taxpayer money are being used to fund billion-dollar athletic departments.

Once ESPN's SEC Network is installed and distributed, no major conference will generate more TV money. That takes us back to that knee-jerk reaction to all of those dollar signs: Time to pay the players? Maybe it's just time to stop soaking everyone else.

The SEC's current deal already brings in a ton of money that is applied to the spiraling cost of winning every phallus-measuring contest that doesn't involve higher education. It's the Athletic Department Industrial Complex that Eisenhower failed to warn us about.

Meanwhile, Big Ten payouts hit $25.7MM per school this year, which currently dwarfs what other conferences get to split up when the school years close. Its members are also spending more on athletics. The Complex is a B1G phenomenon too, but funding it on the backs of the proletariat largely is not.

So what will the SEC do once its dedicated ESPN channel begins to flourish, allowing it to meet and exceed the annual payouts being enjoyed even by Big Ten standards?

The answer is in the data: More of the same. The SEC will continue eating itself to win football titles.

ROLL TIDEMike Slive welcoming Missouri into the SEC  in 2012.

The growth of spending on athletics overall is unsustainable. It's climbing at a rate that's double what it costs to fund a normal student, which coincides with tuition costs that are already skyrocketing at their own unsustainable rates.

I personally don't care enough about creating a strategy to knock of an SEC team in a single January football game, largely because I'm not one of the consumers that college football has to fight to keep engaged. I also can't get too worked up over paying players who garner seven times the investment (or in SEC athletes' cases, 12 times) that a regular college student does.

They should be be paid, but it shouldn't be the financial priority.That should be holding publicly-funded schools with booming athletic departments in power conferences that have the means to be sustainable exclusively through non-tuition and non-tax dollars accountable for doing exactly that.

They should be expected to spend institutional funds and tuition dollars strictly on institutional and academic expenditures (I'll save bloated administrator costs and the Academic Industrial Complex for another column - that I'll never write).

Americans now hold more student loan debt than credit card debt. If we have to fund athletics through debt, do it through the latter, which is consumer-driven and voluntary. Ticket prices are rising faster than inflation, and that's fine. Free market economics will determine when that needs to stop.

In the meantime forget about paying players, and just remind yourself who is currently paying for them.


Comments Show All Comments

Baroclinicity's picture

Nailed it.
edit:  I wonder if the bubble will burst for the SEC.  Slive, I believe, is in his 70s.  Does he retire/walk away, then the unsustainability catches up, and things come crumbling down for the next commissioner?  Meanwhile, Slive becomes etched in the stone for his build up of a dominant conference, when it could be argued he set it up for future failure, and the new commissioner takes the blame for the failure...

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

CC's picture

This is a long term game.  That bubble won't burst in the next 30-40 years so many of us will be dead.  I imagine any "burst" would be more like a government bubble bursting where we decrease the rate of increase and call it a cut.
If the government didn't subsidize student loans much of this mess would not happen.  Schools could not afford to charge as much as they do.  That's a whole different issue and I don't want to turn this into a political discussion...

d1145fresh's picture

Nice article. I still keep saying all you have to do is win. Before the SEC's run (2006) no conference in college football was looked at as dominate. If Ohio State (or Oregon, USC, Texas whoever) can win a National Championship it will start to tarnish the SEC's shine. If the SEC has shown anything, it is that you only need one or two good teams in a conference to make everyone think the conference is great. 

cplunk's picture

Everything changes after next year. If the first playoff is won by a non-SEC team, all those BCS wins are "before there was a playoff" wins. They start to not matter.
I would very much like it, of course, if we were to win the title this season and next, but my second choice is any non-SEC team other then TSUN winning the first playoff.

kdizzleduzit's picture

Good point. Seems like any time anyone is talking about the modern era of championships it is the "BCS era". With the start of a playoff the modern era becomes "The Playoff era"

BuckeyeChief's picture

Kind of like the Super Bowl era...the majority of NFL fans forget the league existed before the Super Bowl, and many teams won titles prior to it (sorry Steelers, you are in third place!).

"2014 National with it!!!"

d1145fresh's picture

Completely agree. The difficult part IMO will be that for the first couple of years I wouldn't be surprised to see 2 SEC teams in the playoff. However, if other conferences (particularly the B1G) can win a couple then it will start to look like the best 4 teams without an extra SEC bias being part of the determination. 

BuckeyeEmpire's picture

As someone who is paying off a good amount of student loans myself, this is pretty crazy to look at.  Well done as always Ramzy. 

Haybucks's picture

Can I start spelling sick, SEC?

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


Ethos's picture

It's all about priorities.  The Big 10 schools have tradionally focused on education first, athletics second.  Down South, that won't happen, probably ever.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

Catch 5's picture

So, a University that consistently ranks in the top 50 of public institutions1 (and top 75 of all), enrolled more national merit scholars this year than any other public school2 (4th among all), and who has a higher graduation rate than Ohio State3 doesn't care about education why - Because they happen to be dominating college football at the same time?  Can the two not be mutually exclusive?

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

doesn't care about education

You're drawing a conclusion I never made. Alabama data:

Your school has shifted its subsidy piggy bank from student tuition dollars to state funding, i.e. tax dollars. In 2008 where it took almost $10MM from school funds, it was to balance its spending. In 2011 it cleared $19MM in profits - all of which stay with the athletic department - while still taking over $5MM from school funds.

No major conference spends more on athletes and less on non-athletes. If you want to argue a point, try to make it one that I actually made.


Catch 5's picture

Nice response, but my comment wasn't directed at you, it was to ETHOS, and the other contributors on this thread who have made similar comments about the lack of focus on the part of SEC Universities toward actual education.  When I address you, it is for your comments or article's subject.
That said, you certainly take a different approach to this subject than Johnny did a few months ago:
And for the record, I tend to agree with your article (the meat of it, not the slant) - schools like Alabama do not need additional help from the State, but I also admit that I don't follow the politics and financials of higher education beyond fringe articles like this one.

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

cajunbuckeye's picture


An angry fan...rooting for an angry team...led by angry coaches

amos's picture

What is your source for claiming that all of Alabama's 2011 profits stayed with the athletic department?
It sent $4.4 million back to the university in 2012:

Poison nuts's picture

Amos - you're back! 

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Hovenaut's picture

Always the economics behind the competition......big time football is, has and always will be big business.

But some things change, the south has risen again.....but methinks the tide will subside (yes on the pun).

Side note, the center 'Bama cheerleader is the ex of Dr. Gregory House.....actress Sela Ward. Older woman foxiness supreme....

BuckeyeChief's picture

Wow, Sela Ward...nice.

"2014 National with it!!!"

DMcDougal24's picture

I thought so! The Fugitive - great movie!

NW Buckeye's picture

Thank you Ramzy.  Well stated.   

aboynamedtracy's picture

This is already the strong favorite to be my most linked-to article of 2013.
 Ramzy; thank you!

BuckeyeMike2002's picture

The SEC is really interesting as far as academic institutions go. Vanderbilt is one of the best academic universities in the nation. The rest are kind of meh.
The Big 10 is a group of universities that happen to have football teams. The SEC is a group of football teams that as a second thought have universities attached to them.
If I had a dollar for every book in the library of an SEC university I couldn't buy a cheeseburger at McDonald's. The only good thing is that most of them aren't colored in yet.
Unfortunately the only answer is to beat them. Somebody has always had to stand up to bullies. Somebody will have to beat these jokers on the field. Hopefully it is UFM and the TOSU Buckeyes.
Great Article Ramzy

Q: What is the difference between the Michigan Football Team and a bag of crap. A: The Bag.

TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

If I'm not mistaken, I believe Vandy's revenue sports (football and basketball) are completely self-sustaining as a result of Gordon Gee's restructuring of Vandy athletics. The non-revenue sports are funded almost exclusively through Vandy's endowment. Thus, students don't get soaked to fund athletics at Vandy, which is one of the reasons I cheer for them.

TheOtherDJ's picture

Vandy is the only SEC school that has my complete respect.  I have some respect for some aspects of the academic reputations and quality of Florida and Georgia, but that's it.  The rest are hot matter how many national merit scholars you claim enroll at your school.  

Catch 5's picture

Do you base that on anything material or just because they aren't ranked as high as where you went or because you don't care for their football teams?

Make their asses quit! - Nick Saban

GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

Until the rest of the B1G decides to pay its coaches SEC type money, expect the same results. Talent will travel wherever the best opportunity and situation lie. Coaches follow the money. It's really quite simple IMO. Pay your assistant coaches and coordinators more... breed an ultra competitive atmosphere among coaching ranks, and you'll have success.  The good ole boys club of coaches in the B1G needs to go away, it's softened this conference from a recruiting standpoint.  I also believe the weak ass spread passing teams are dragging us down as well. I hate to say it, but look at the SEC. It's so simple. Pro Style, old school, smashmouth football. You run the ball, play great defense, and control the clock. That's what wins championships. The spread passing offense was invented to give less talented teams a chance to compete. But when nearly everyone plays hard nosed football, you make each other better.  What baffles me is the Big Ten was all about this simple yet brute philosophy, so why did we ever change???  People act like the SEC is this unstopable giant in college football. All they did was went back to the basics when everyone else was gawking in admiration at what Brees did at Purdue, and Manning and Brady did in the NFL. 
What I love about UFM is his mentality. Outside of his genius offensive scheme, his philosophy is so simple and effective. What I love and respect most about him is that fire he has inside him. He reminds me of Daniel Plainview in "there will be blood". He doesn't give a shit if he pisses another coach off. He doesn't care if he nabs up what you thought was a locked up commitment. He doesn't care if he ends up hanging 60 points on you because you defense was tired and slow. He does what is best for his team. He leads by example. He makes everything a competition. I think the B1G as a whole will learn last year wasn't some fluke welcome home parade. I hate to say it but I hope some coaches that can't compete start getting shit canned if it means we become a tougher more physical conference. The sooner the better.
Sorry for the rant, I had a bad night at work dude and I f*cking hate the Eagles!
Outstanding work Ramzy.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

45has2's picture

Amen, brother.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

buckeyedude's picture

Wait a minute. So the Spread is now old school?
Somebody better tell UFM. I don't think he got the message.



IBleedSandG's picture

Respect the "There Will Be Blood" reference. Outstanding flick.


Riggins's picture

The SEC and the SEC Network will generate a ton of money, but I think you're wrong if you think it's going to dwarf the B1G's payouts per school once our Tier 1 contracts go to the open market in 2017. I believe they will sign with Fox and headline their new Fox Sports lineup which is launching later this year.
The SEC and the B1G, and to a lesser extent, the Pac 12 are by far the most stable financially.  The ACC and Big12 are fine right now, but when the SEC and B1G put these huge financial disparities into place, they're going to wish they hadn't signed their Grant of Rights.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Whether or not it's right, they aren't breaking any rules.  Clearly, the extent of the problem is beyond college football and athletics.

Read my entire screen name....

BuckeyeMark's picture

It's about a mentality about what matters most.  In the Ivy League they are aghast at our athletic budget.  We meanwhile are aghast at SEC athletic budgets and lack of budgeting for students.  I'd like to think we're striking a happy medium about athletics AND education.  But the south has never been for education and that won't change any time soon.  "Foobaw" matters most in the south and all you have to do is follow the money to know what is indeed King.

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

That's really only part of it, but it's still my point that we can point it out all we want and nothing is going to change.  There are too many layers...

Read my entire screen name....

acBuckeye's picture

Former writer DJ will not like this article.

Riggins's picture

Applicable to everything but Warren Harding and Marion of all things.

TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

Ramzy... you nailed it... Love this write-up.

yrro's picture

Can't believe I haven't seen these numbers before. I've always felt that a ridiculous amount of attention was paid to athletics at supposed institutions of higher education, but that it was all harmless fun as long as it paid for itself. There is no reason with the fan base that these SEC schools have that they should be hitting taxpayers and students who don't give a crap about football up for these bills.

AC1972's picture

You would be hard pressed to find a taxpayer or student in the south that does not care about football.  It is part of the culture...there is not much else.

droessl's picture

Ramzy killed this one like it was 5 hookers at Craig James' house. 

BrewstersMillions's picture

Who may or may not have had underwear stolen by Mark May.

hetuck's picture

Another angle are the SEC athletic foundations. Google LSU, for example. Their foundation finances stadium expansions. OSU paid for their own renovation with borrowed university funds.

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

bucknut24's picture

Excellent Ramzy

rdubs's picture

I would say good article, but you brought the Bamapologist out of hibernation, so I am not sure it was worth it.

amos's picture

Only Illinois and Iowa still attach fees to student tuition to help fund athletics. Every single other department is self-funded. Huge, mostly-full stadiums help pay those bills. The Big Ten Network is extremely helpful. Smart investments and licensing agreements are as well.

Failed to mention that at least 7 of the current Big Ten members receive subsidies from institutional funding. Want to see some serious subsidizing? Check out future Big Ten members Rutgers and Maryland. 

Patriot4098's picture

Look, you can try to refute the article all you want. Simple fact is Ramzy is 100 percent correct. It tweaked a nerve and now you're grasping at straws. No one is going to concede on either side. We both have our perceptions of bias. The drama is unecessary, so leave it be.

"Evil shenanigans!"     - Mac

amos's picture

Looking at expenditures only is an effective approach if one wants to wag his finger at the SEC for spending too much on athletics.  But expenditures only tell half the story; revenues are the relevant other half.  Using the 2012 expenditure and revenue data that came out yesterday, I calculated that the SEC had a surplus of $5.3 million per school (I deducted subsidies from the revenues).  By comparison, the Big Ten cleared $2.8 million per school. I freely admit that this discrepancy is largely due to the fact that Big Ten schools fund many more "non-revenue generating sports" than does the SEC, and I applaud them for that.  I think it's worth noting that while SEC schools are investing comparatively more in athletics, they are receiving a good return on that investment.  And despite what Ramzy suggests, there is evidence that some of that profit is returned to the institutions' general funds. 
Note: I invite others to double check my math. I should've double checked myself, but I really didn't feel like going back through the tedious calculations.

buckeyepastor's picture

Excellent report.   Appreciate that it moves beyond the ongoing commentary on whether coaching, or climate, or over-signing, or paying players, or all of the above is why things are as they are, and reminds all of us to get some perspective on what this industry does not only for players, but for average students.    It reminds all of us about the "costs" of winning, whether it be in Columbus or Tuscaloosa.   
Personally, while I'm open to seeing rules change in terms of players being allowed to get some financial help, I'm done with listening more than five seconds to anyone who contends that these athletes are being used and not getting anything for all that they do.   I'm sorry if O'Bannon and others don't see a free education and not having to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans as a pretty big deal and a genuine compensation.  As one of the mllions who actually had to go into debt to get an education that allows me to provide an income for self and family, I think these poor, "underpaid" athletes that are getting a free education that the other 95% or more of us have to pay for over decades are among the most fortunate young people in the world.   Forgive me if I don't shed a tear that they have to wait 1-4 years before getting an opportunity to make millions, and get a college degree along the way.    I know that's another subject, but couildn't help thinking about this as I read about the disparities here.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

kayz's picture

Great job Ramzy!