Money Calling Shots in Sports

Never knew Abba was that popular in Nebraska. But, I could hear Tom Osborne singing “money, money, money, always sunny, in the rich man’s world” all the way down here in Mississippi.

Osborne’s Nebraska ended speculation and revealed it is moving move from the cloudy Big 12 Conference to the sunny Big 10. That led Colorado to seek the sunshine of the Pac 10. Texas A&M, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State packed bags for the Pac 10, but decided to stay home.

Welcome to the latest scramble in big time college football.

I love it!

No, I hate it!

Well, the fan in me loves the idea of Nebraska vs. Michigan and Ohio State. But the educator in me hates the terrible sway money has on colleges and athletics.

The scramble was not all sunshine, of course. It was looking very cloudy at not-as-big-time –as-they-thought schools like Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Baylor as they faced life as Big 12 remnants. The sun has come out, but not as brightly as at Texas.

A last minute big money TV deal with Fox saved the Big 12. But, the lesser schools had to agree for Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M to get larger shares to keep them at home. And Texas gets to form its own network a la Notre Dame. That means Texas will get about $25 million, Texas Tech about $14 million a year.

Money, money, money – in announcing Nebraska’s move, Chancellor Harvey Perlman spoke of “television rights” and “fiduciary obligations” and then about better educational alignment with the Big 10. Translate that to mean money first and education second.

It’s hard to tell, but college athletics is supposed to be more about education than money. That premise underlies the employment law exemption that allows big-time conference colleges to intake millions, pay out millions, but give student athletes only free tuition, room, and board. Small colleges can’t even give athletic scholarships.

This latest conference scramble could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Noise is stirring in Congress to review the exemptions given to colleges for athletics. But, if there’s a place where money talks more than in college athletics, it’s Congress.

Ain’t no sunshine in most athletic budgets these days. In Mississippi, there was talk with all the budget cuts to reduce athletics at community and junior colleges. What about the financial challenges facing high school sports? These issues are not unique to Mississippi.

Last I looked, high schools and community colleges were the roots feeding big time sports. Seems to me that if the roots wither, it won’t matter how much sunshine the top gets.

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