SEC Commisioner Mike Slive Wants to Re-Arrange the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Stan MeihausContributor IJuly 21, 2011

Thanks for the bonus, Tim--sorry there's none left for you.
Thanks for the bonus, Tim--sorry there's none left for you.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Yesterday SEC Commisioner Mike Slive held his annual State of the SEC press conference.  As usual, he spent the first part bragging about the accomplishments of conference athletes, but then he departed from normal protocol and proposed “an agenda for change,” which might sound bold but is in fact just some tinkering around the edges. 

He wants to give four-year scholarships to players (as opposed to one-year renewables), increase the GPA requirement and allow coaches to use social media to recruit. 

Or something like that. 

Really revolutionary thinking there, Mr. Slive.  That should wipe out the problems in college athletics overnight.  No more Terrelle Pryors or Cam Newtons or Reggie Bushes to worry about now. 

Look, university athletics has a big problem.  It’s called MONEY.  And it’s not going away.  And big problems cannot be fixed with little solutions.

Last year, CBS and Turner Cable agreed to a 12-year, $10.6 billion deal with the NCAA just for the right to broadcast the basketball tournament.  March Madness alone pays the NCAA more than $770 million a year.  The NCAA keeps 40 percent of the TV contract for itself—more than $300 million a year. 

The other 60 percent is sent not to the schools (and heaven forbid to the players), but to the conferences, based on how many teams are in the conference.  You remember that big game of musical chairs a couple of years ago, when all the conferences were scrambling to expand and add new members?  It was never about marketability or geographical integrity or any of those other reasons that were bandied about. 

It was about the money.  

The more schools in your conference, the more TV revenue you get. 

Huggins knows what time it is.
Huggins knows what time it is.J. Meric/Getty Images

Look into what the conferences do with the money, though, and you will find a black hole.  I pulled up the 2010 ACC “annual report,” figuring that like every other annual report it would have income statements, balances sheets, etc.  


No numbers at all.  Just 95 pages of marketing material. Ditto the SEC, the Big East and the others.  They don’t disclose any material financial information at all.

You CAN find sports-related revenue by school via this website from the NCAA:

I looked up 2010 revenue for the Duke basketball program and it was a little less than $27 million.  It doesn’t break down revenue by category, though, so you can’t tell how much is ticket sales, apparel sales or money from the TV contract.  But it doesn’t seem like much of that $770 million is trickling down to Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils.

And you don’t have to take my word for that.  Here is what Bob Huggins, basketball coach at West Virginia, had to say about the system during the most recent NCAA tournament:

The next thing is, the presidents need to get their head out of their (expletive) and figure out the NCAA is keeping all their money.  Between the NCAA and the conferences, they're keeping all the money. You have all these presidents concerned about budgets, meantime they let two organizations steal all their money.

So I guess it’s no real surprise that neither the NCAA nor any of the conferences support paying the players.  Because the money to pay them would have to come out of THEIR pockets.  And while Huggins probably understands better than anybody the corruption in this system, the rest of us ought to think about why the NCAA and the conferences keep the money. 

I wonder if it has anything to do with the old saying “he who has the gold makes the rules”?

At one point in his presser Slive described the college athletic system as wonderful and “uniquely American.”  Oh, it’s uniquely American all right—19th-century American.  Since then, most of us have buried the idea of getting rich off free labor and moved onto a fairer system that actually pays workers for what they produce.

But not, apparently, in the SEC—or indeed at any of the big football or basketball universities.  There, as William Faulkner once said, “…the past is not forgotten, and, in fact, it is not even the past.”