The New Economics of College Football and the Need for Reform at the NCAA

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On today’s edition of Coffee and Markets, Brad Jackson is joined Christian Tappe, a book editor and roving blogger, and Josh Zerkle from Kissing Suzy Kolber, With Leather and House of Punte to discuss the recent scandal at Ohio State University, then ask whether the NCAA’s rulebook should be rewritten to accommodate the new economics of college football.


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Related Links:

Liberty in college football? Not so much
Terrelle Pryor apologizes for actions that led him to leave Ohio State
The Tressel Problem
Did Colt McCoy’s wife just blow a hole in Texas football?
Kissing Suzy Kolber
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House of Punte on iTunes

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June 28, 2011

Jackson: On the show today, Christian Tappe a book editor and roving blogger, and our friend Josh Zerkle from Kissing Suzy Kolber, With Leather and House of Punte are here. We’ll discuss the recent scandal at Ohio State University and then ask whether the NCAA’s rule book should be rewritten to accommodate the new economics of college football. I’m your host Brad Jackson and you’re listening to the June 28, 2011 edition of Coffee and Markets.

Well guys, that’s for coming on today to talk some college football.

Zerkle: Thanks for having us.

Tappe: No problem.

Jackson: This is my favorite time of year coming up here. I am a college football addict, of course I guess that makes sense since I live in Texas. Let’s talk about all the controversy surrounding the game lately. Ohio State or “The Ohio State” as they like to pretend to call themselves —

Zerkle: Thank you.

Jackson: — got into a lot of trouble for some trading of memorabilia for things like tattoos and other things. Tressel has resigned. There was a big hub-bub about whether or not he knew that this was going on and covered up for it. Josh, what’s your take on this scandal itself?

Zerkle: Well, obviously it’s a violation of NCAA rules and it’s further compounded by the fact that Tressel apparently had knowledge of the exchange of memorabilia for cash or for tattoos, as it were, going back into February I believe it was, or even earlier than that. So very clearly I didn’t see any other end game other than Tressel getting fired. And it’s tragic. It does put a damper on everything he’s done at that school. And not only the six Big Ten titles and the National Championship in ’03, but also just sort of his commitment to building the complete person, guiding young people and then sort of —

Jackson: Yeah. He was a really well respected coach.

Zerkle: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, this puts a, you know, an ugliness on that legacy. One that’s really going to be hard for, you know, people to reconcile with. You know, me especially being an Ohio State alum and having followed that program, you know, obviously since he’s been there. I think it’s kind of unfair though to just sort of consider Tressel to be infallible. I mean, yeah. Is he a fraud? Is he, no. I don’t think so. I think he’s under pressure to win just like everybody else, you know. Being in the Big Ten, being in the state that it’s in right now, I think anything short of a title is, or a share of a title is a failure for Tressel right now. And obviously he was under a lot of pressure to maintain that and he wasn’t going to be able to do that with the so-called tat five of sitting out games whether it was this year, or the year before, or at any point.


Jackson: As a Buckeye you and your fellow Buckeye friends, how have they reacted to this? How have you reacted to it on a personal level?

Zerkle: Yeah. We’re not surprised. We’re really sort of looking ahead to see what Luke Fickell can do this year with the team that he’s going to be inheriting. We have, you know, obviously a situation, a quarterback now, Terrelle Pryor, jumping ship for the NFL. I think we’re all going to look back though on Tressel’s legacy here at Ohio State and you can draw parallels to Woody Hayes to some extent in the way that both of those guys left suddenly. But I think the view of Tressel now is still generally positive although not nearly as positive as I think it could have been. But you know, just like you are Brad, we’re focusing on 2011. We’re curious to see what’s going to happen.

And the nice thing with Ohio State is you’re really only playing four games a year. You’re playing Penn State, you’re playing Michigan, there’s usually a tough non-conference game, and then you have to make sure you don’t drop the ball against Michigan State or Minnesota, or somebody like that. So really, if you can get over three of those four, I mean that’s a good season and you’re going to a BCS bowl. So Fickell doesn’t have much to worry about if he can find himself a quarterback that’s ready to go by September.

Jackson: I don’t know if you knew this, but Texas actually didn’t play last season. We just sat the season out. That’s what that was —

Zerkle: Yeah. I thought that was interesting.

Jackson: — yeah. We just didn’t compete last year. Christian, let’s talk about your article for a minute here. Should the NCAA completely throw out their rule book and just rewrite it from the beginning in order to fit in a modern age?

Tappe: You know, I don’t know if they need to throw it out completely, but it definitely needs, you know, a strong rewrite. You know, like you said, you know, Tressel broke the rules. Tried to break the rules, you know, and as such they deserve the punishment they get in a sense. But you know the rules themselves I think are broken at this point. You know, the schools and the NCAA are making tons of money off college football. And you can’t be, you can’t expect, you know, kids first of all to be able to go through that, being offered, you know, so much because they are commodities. They are part of this billion dollar business. And yeah, they get scholarships which are very generous, but there are other opportunities out there. And to expect, you know, in this day and age for a kid, you know, lots of these kids coming from poor backgrounds to just be able to ignore that I think is naïve.

And then you know, Josh alluded to this as far as the coaches go, the rules are such that everyone is skirting them. In order to compete, in order to, you know, to stay competitive in a pressure packed, you know, scrutiny filled environment you know it, you’ve got to look the other way sometimes. When, like Josh said when five of your star players are, you know, being under suspension possibly, you know, for something as silly as trading something for a tattoo. Something in that sense, you know, definitely the NCAA has got to take a look at this. You know, there’s one thing for rules and, you know, they should be followed. But if everybody is breaking them, you know, OSU, Texas, USC, across all of, you know, across football even basketball, I think that’s enough in and of itself just to take a step back and look at these thing again. Say, you know, can these work in the environment of the game today? Which is, you know, when it all comes down to it, is a business.


Jackson: And well, let’s talk about that because this probably is not, it’s definitely not something that’s isolated just to a school like Ohio State. Probably if the NCAA dug far enough they could find that every school is doing this. One example, Rachel McCoy who is Colt McCoy’s wife, Colt McCoy was our quarterback at Texas for a long time, came on the, randomly called actually into ESPN at a Colin Cowherd show the other day when he was talking about this subject. And said that her husband when he was at UT was one of the rare few who could say no to agents and what they offered all the time. Which means that there were others who didn’t, and that Texas could be next on this list.

Could we go to the point where we have Texas, Ohio State, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida, all being wrapped up in something like this, Christian?

Tappe: I think absolutely. I mean, there’s just, there really, and the money that’s out there that people across, you know, all realms of the sport and business. And when you bring in, you know, endorsements, and the pros come in later, you know, TV deals, there’s just way too much money out there that’s at stake just to have this stop at, you know, one isolated incident or at Ohio State University or at Texas. I mean, I know a lot of people are looking for a slice of the pie. And they’re going to go to these kids and, you know, they’re going to offer things to them. And of course the coaches are going to defend it and, you know, it goes back to what I was saying before.

I mean, the fact of the matter is this is not, it is amateur sports, but it’s not amateur sports. And we’ve got to stop looking at it like that or else it’s just going to be one after another and, you know, the game is going to become secondary. You’re going to have your stars sitting out. And at the end of the day it’s going to be bad for the NCAA, because if they are consistent they are going to have to be sitting their stars, they’re going to have to be firing the coaches, and that hurts their brand.

Jackson: Josh, let’s ask this, my grandfather is a Naval Academy graduate, huge football fan, and has said that for a long time this system is broken. And that potentially players need to, the NCAA or schools need to look at paying players at least some sort of stipend and acknowledging that college football is, you know, the training ground for the NFL and that rules need to change to reflect that. As Christian was saying, these schools make an awful lot of money off these kids, whether it’s their jerseys, or it’s, you know, the cover of NCAA, you know, ‘11 or whatever year they’re on.

Do you think that it’s time to give players some cut of the pie?

Zerkle: Yeah, I do. And I’m not really the only one. College football is really the only bastion of amateur athletics left that has not evolved over, I would say over the last 50 years or so. You think about amateur sports over 50 years, about 50 years ago what were the big ones? Well, there’s college football, college basketball, golf and the Olympics. Well, in the Olympics pros are eligible to play. You almost never see amateur golfers any more, unless they’re trying to ride out a college scholarship which is, you know, a good deal for them since they’re not really on TV. They’re not cashing in on their image typically. And college basketball is almost totally destroyed now, even with the one and done rule. You have players looking to jump to the NBA or even go to Europe instead of playing four years in college. And college football is really the only sport that has not evolved with that at all.


And it’s gotten to the point where earlier this month there were six SEC coaches that signed a proposal that would pay 70 players on a team $300 a game. I mean, it’s really unprecedented to the point where you have half the coaches in arguably the most successful league in college football saying yes, we need to compensate these players outright. And obviously Christian mentioned the scholarships and that sort of thing, but I would argue that a lot of these players are not getting their fair market value, you know, just based on this archaic system that we’re still working with.

Jackson: How do you think we could change it going forward? Do you think that players should get a cut of their jersey sales? Or do you think they actually need to be paid like NFL players per game they play? Or do you think they should, you know, get some sort of extra stipend in order to live on at school?

How do you think we should resolve that?

Zerkle: You could probably do a combination of the two things that you just mentioned, one being having sort of a cash stipend. And a lot of academic scholarships have a cash dividend or entitlement, sort of, attached to them. Athletic scholarships don’t, and why that is is beyond my understanding really. The second thing that you mentioned would be permitting players to cash in their own licenses with the video games, the jerseys, or even using their names. A lot of times you see older baseball players or football players going to it and charging for autographs. I don’t understand why it would be detrimental for a college student to do that sort of thing. You know, but really now I mean there’s so much money out there.

Like Christian said, you can take stuff under the table and not get a call within, if you cannot get caught in four years then there’s really no harm to it, it’s just to the program. And I think a lot of programs right now are content with sort of taking that risk and trying to keep everything below board. The fact of the matter is like these great, these better college football players like the Cam Newtons and Terrelle Pryors, they are getting paid. They are getting that money. Does it really change anything if you just pull that money above the table, so to speak? You know, does the dynamic really change? I’m not sure that it would to be quite honest.

(Commercial break)

Jackson: There were schools in the past who got in trouble for breaking NCAA rules, Miami and of course SMU got the death penalty. Do you think that any school would get hit with something really severe enough in this sort of situation, or you know, in light of how utterly destroyed SMU became because of the death penalty, do you think, you know, the NCAA will eventually make a big PR deal out of this but not really slap the schools with serious consequences?

Zerkle: Well, yeah. I think Ohio State is eligible for a really serious penalty, having been, falling into the classification of a repeat violator. Meaning they’ve been, if this tat 5 situation pans out the way we all think it’s going to, that will be the second major violation for Ohio State within five years, which would make them eligible for the death penalty. Now, I’ve talked to some people that know more about this than I do and they’re saying the death penalty is off the table. It’s not really going to happen. And some people are even saying it’s not going to be as bad as what Southern Cal received in sort of their punishment with the Reggie Bush situation.


Jackson: Yeah. Vince Young is still waiting for his Heisman Trophy, by the way.

Zerkle: Yeah. Exactly. We’ll see how far this hammer swings down, and maybe Christian would disagree with me on this. But you know, we’ll see how serious is, serious the NCAA is with maintaining this mask of amateurism with how they deal with Ohio State.

Jackson: Christian?

Tappe: Yeah. I mean, NCAA is really moving into an even tougher spot that they’ve already been in, I think. I mean, you’ve got, it used to be kind of USC was there doing whatever they did down in Southern California. And for whatever reasons the other programs were at least keeping their troubles in this area out of the public eye. But you know, we’ve seen in the past three or four years, and even more so lately with Ohio State and with Texas, with Colt McCoy’s wife, what she said, then it’s all over college football. And so now you’ve put NCAA in a tough spot where can they really bring the hammer down on USC, and LSU, and Texas, and Florida, and whoever else is doing it. You know, at some point you’re starting to eliminate, you know, your best programs or severely weaken them. And you know, it’s one of the reasons they’re going to have to think long and hard about their process here or else, you know, they’re not going to have their marquee teams, marquee programs left to market. And you know, and where do they go from there?

And so I think they’re going to, you know, like Josh is saying, I can’t see them, you know, bringing the axe down too hard on Ohio State. Certainly they’re going to get some sanctions and stuff, but you know, how effective will those sanctions be? Are they going to be in name only? Are they going to be removing championships? I guess that all remains to be seen, but at some point they’ve got to figure something else out or else they’re just going to be losing the best parts of their brand.

Jackson: While we’re talking college football, let’s have a discussion about playoffs. Talking about ways the NCAA can make money. They make a truck load of cash off March Madness every year —

Zerkle: Sure.

Jackson: — and the schools make a lot of money off these bowls. It seems right now if you show up in the season you get invited to a bowl. You don’t even really have to be a good team any more. Is it time for a playoff, Josh?

Is it time to just throw all this million bowl crap out and say, it’s time for a playoff? Top eight. Top 16, whatever, it’s time to go.

Zerkle: I got back and forth on this a lot, because what we’re really talking about here is the federalization of college football. Where instead of the leagues controlling everything, as they do now, we’re talking about a single entity, being the NCAA here, managing that post-season to the point where we’re playing down to, you know, a single winner. And I don’t, if you ask me tomorrow I might change my mind, but I’m not in favor of that. I think part of the great thing about college football is that there are five, or six, or seven teams that we all think are titanic and great. And part of the reason that is because they don’t really play each other all the time. And when they do play each other in the post season it is interesting.


Now, there’s a lot to be said about the efficiency of the bowl system, how well managed those systems are. Obviously there was this big to do with the Fiesta Bowl where money was being spent on, you know, entertainment and adult entertainment at that. Obviously that could use some oversight. But I think the reason we haven’t seen a playoff right now is because the leagues, you know, particularly the Big Ten, have not put a big enough push to get that accomplished. And I’m fine with that. I think, you know, like I said, like you have every, college football to me is really just a regional sport. It’s not a national sport. And I would prefer to recognize that and sort of keep the playoffs as opposed to the post season system, really where it is.

Jackson: You know, it’s interesting you brought up the Big Ten. This last off season of course there were a ton of teams that shuffled. The Big Ten became the big 27 and the Pac-10, of course, broke up the Big 12. And I think there’s potential for a lot of these conferences to grow even larger. I think eventually whether we want it to happen or not the rest of the Big 12, or at least some of it, will break off and become the Pac 27 or however many teams become over there.

At that point, when we have these giant conferences, does it create a playoff in and of itself? When you have to have conference championships, and have east meet west, or north meet south in that conference and duke it out for a chance to go to a BCS bowl?

Zerkle: Go ahead, Christian.

Tappe: Yeah. You know, I mean I think that’s probably a likely outcome. When you look even now at college basketball and you have the Big East tournament and the, you know, the ACC tournament, and all the conferences have their own thing. And the Big East oftentimes is, can be more exciting than, you know, March Madness itself. And I think if you go to the bigger conferences in football you’re going to get some of that definitely as well. Which is just going to, so many teams you have to sort through them and, you know, pick a champion from each team or from each conference. And you know, just by default you’re going to have some playoff type competition at least. Maybe you won’t call it a playoff or anything like that, but the competition, the atmosphere will be there.

And you know, just to kind of piggyback off of what Josh was saying, you know, for me with the playoffs versus bowl games, you know, I agree with Josh. I mean, football is being played. It’s largely a regional thing. I mean, would the playoff work? Maybe. You know, would it crown the real, you know, the real winner of college football? Maybe. But you know, at the end of the day you’re still getting a football game on TV every night from, you know, December 23rd to January 8th. And at the end of it I think, I mean, that’s all people really care about. And so I think, you know, yeah. It might be nice to see a playoff, but you know, we don’t know how it works. And as it is right now we’re getting a lot of college football and most of it is pretty decent during that time.


Jackson: Guys, thanks so much for doing this. It’s great to have you on and talk a little sports for a change on Coffee and Markets.

Zerkle: Any time.



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