Field of green

Marketplace Staff Sep 7, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Whether you’re ready for some football or not, the NFL kicks off tonight. Miami’s at Pittsburgh. The Steelers start their defense of the Super Bowl title they won last year. Major college football started last weekend. And the season’s going to be a bit longer this year. Diana Nyad’s here to explain it to us. Hey Diana.

DIANA NYAD: Kai, good to be in the house with you.

RYSSDAL: That’s right, good to be here. The pros start tonight, and so we know who’s going to play and when they’re going to play, ’cause they don’t really get to set their own schedules. Colleges, though, it’s a different ballgame, so to speak.

NYAD: They do. In all those different conferences, the Big East, the Big 12, and all that, they have to, of course, play a certain number of scheduled games within that conference. And that’s what helps set the bowl games at the end of the year, et cetera. But then they have, it depends on the conference, two to three to sometimes four games where they can just do anything they want; it’s just a business deal. They can pick any little or big school, all around the country, pay them whatever they can negotiate, and it’s just up for grabs.

RYSSDAL: Now, they have added a twelfth game onto the NCAA schedule here.

NYAD: Yeah. In seasons before, they have had a twelfth game, like in 2002, 2003, but they haven’t the last couple years. This year, they added a twelfth game, and the NCAA is unabashed about saying why. It’s not because, “oh, we need more competition, it will thrill the fans more” — money, money, money.

RYSSDAL: How does it work?

NYAD: Well, it works like this: A big school like Wisconsin, you know, who’s ranked in the top twenty, who could finish in a big bowl game this year — they have to play, as I said, their regular games within their conference. After that, they look around, and they say, “Wouldn’t it be great to get the University of Buffalo, one of the worst teams in all of college football–“

RYSSDAL: Hey, now.

NYAD: I’m sorry, just statistically speaking — “in here this year? We get them in a home game, our fans will go crazy, ’cause we’ll beat them probably something like sixty-five to nothing, we’ll get all the concessions, the ticket sales, the restaurants and hotels will be filled up, our alumni will be thrilled to win such a big game, and we’ll pay Buffalo about $600,000 to come in, when they’re used to getting four hundred, three at the most — maybe $300,000 a game to go away. So now everybody wins.”

RYSSDAL: And it’s not just, as it sounds, a little bit different. I mean, these are 350-pound offensive linemen playing against guys who spend a lot of time in the library.

NYAD: It’s really different. I mean, when you look at the real skilled positions, you know, there are guys like Walter Peyton and Jerry Rice who came out of 1AA schools, and they thirsted to play against those 1A teams, ’cause they wanted to show their stuff. Fair enough, if you’re a running back, quarterback, wide receiver… There’s a guy at University of New Hampshire this year named David Ball, he’s a wide receiver. He wants to play, he wants to show his stuff. But what about his linemen? What about even the linebackers and all the rest of the team? They are considerably smaller and, just my opinion, it’s dangerous.

RYSSDAL: What about, though, the exposure that it gives this guy from New Hampshire, who may now eventually get to make it to the pros because scouts aren’t going to go to New Hampshire to watch his games, but they are going to go to Wisconsin?

NYAD: No, you’re right. But as I said, what about the rest of his team who are not capable of going up against guys like, you know, the big guys at Auburn?

RYSSDAL: Let me ask you something, though, about the larger picture here. Football teams at many schools fund the whole athletic department. Right?

NYAD: Yeah, they do.

RYSSDAL: So, if Buffalo, just to pick an example, can double its take from one of these games, and then use that money to buy new film equipment and new weight equipment, but also to fund the co-ed volleyball team, or men’s field hockey — sports that don’t get a lot of money, don’t get a lot of exposure — what’s the problem with that?

NYAD: You know, when you say “what’s the problem?” — on the financial end, it’s great. The smaller school gets a bigger revenue than they ever do for playing away; the big school gets the huge revenue and gets to kill a little team, which everybody loves. But I just think it’s lopsided. I go to watch a football game ’cause it’s going to be fairly close. Rivals are gonna play. Not gonna be absolute slaughters which we know from the get-go.

RYSSDAL: All right. The business of sports, and a little bit more from Diana Nyad today. Thanks, Diana.

NYAD: Thank you, Kai.

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