Why are colleges leaving conferences?

Marketplace Staff Jun 10, 2010

Why are colleges leaving conferences?

Marketplace Staff Jun 10, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: It’s musical chairs right now in big time college sports. There are rumors the University of Nebraska is leaving the Big 12 Conference, home to schools like Texas and Oklahoma. Nebraska’s said to be headed to the Big 10, which includes Michigan and Ohio State. Meanwhile the Pac-10 is now the Pac-11. Colorado, formerly of the Big 12, is joining USC, Washington, Cal and Arizona. And the odds are really good that there will be more defections and re-alignments in the next couple of days. So we’re going to take a timeout and try to understand.

John Ourand of the SportsBusiness Journal is here. John, good to have you with us.

John Ourand: Thank you for having me Kai.

Ryssdal: So the who’s doing what to whom of this whole thing just makes my brain hurt. So, I’m going to go with a fairly, what I hope is, a simple first question: Why is all this happening?

Ourand: Well, it’s happening because all of the schools see a massive pay out, in terms of media dollars, from other conferences. So the Big 12 right now, their media deal that they have with Fox Sports Net and ESPN, isn’t nearly as lucrative as the media deal that the Big 10 pays out to its schools, and as the promise of what the Pac-10 could potentially pay a bigger conference of schools there. So everybody is really taking a look at this with dollar signs in their eyes.

Ryssdal: So the president of the University of Nebraska is saying, I get $10 million if I stay, $15 million if I go — sounds like a no brainer.

Ourand: Exactly. Colleges are cutting back and they’re cutting back and they’re cutting back these days. Where else are they getting this money, where what ESPN just paid for the ACC, what Fox and ESPN are paying for the Big 10. Really, the media rights in college sports are just about the only places where universities are really making money these days.

Ryssdal: Talk to me about some of the other schools involved here. The University of Texas has been widely mentioned as a key prize in this whole thing. Why is that?

Ourand: It basically owns the state of Texas. So, if Texas goes to the Pac-10, let’s say, and the Pac-10 wants to start a cable channel, it’s cable channel will be carried throughout the entire state of Texas, because you really can’t not have Texas games in Texas. You’ll go out of business.

Ryssdal: I’m going to expose my inner-naivete here and mention this doesn’t really speak well for the spirit of college athletics, does it?

Ourand laughs

Ryssdal: You laughed at me!

Ourand: If the spirit of college athletics is about making a lot of money, I think it speaks directly to it. In some aspects, it does though. They are creating these big power conferences, which are going to create a lot of really good rivalries and have a lot of really good games. I think what a lot of people aren’t looking at… Let’s say, as has been rumored, Texas Tech goes to the Pac-10. Well, the Texas Tech football team will play all the Pac-10 schools and the Texas Tech basketball team will play all the Pac-10 schools. But what about the Texas Tech softball team — do they really have the money or the wherewithal to go up to Pullman, Wash., to play Washington State? So, people aren’t really looking at the non-revenue sports, as much as just all this money coming from the football and basketball programs.

Ryssdal: Those who are revenue-minded will say that some of this athletic money does go to academic programs.

Ourand: It’s not like this is just a money grab and it’s these big, greedy fat cats that are hoarding the money. It does go back into the schools.

Ryssdal: Speaking of paying people, what is this do to the on-again, off-again discussion of actually just paying college athletes?

Ourand: It makes it a more difficult argument to say that these have to athletes essentially play for free, when we’re talking about these tens of millions and hundreds of millions of dollars that are going to the conferences and that are going to the universities. I’m not sure if there’s really going to be any movement on that, I’m not seeing a ton of movement on that, but it will lead to people who want to see the college athletes paid, it’ll give them a bigger platform.

Ryssdal: John Ourand from the SportsBusiness Journal. John, thanks so much.

Ourand: Absolutely. Thank you Kai.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.