FOOTBALL AT USA


Final Report of the USA Faculty Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on Football

Richmond Brown, Chair

March 6, 2001

On February 22, 2001, the consulting firm Convention, Sports and Leisure, Inc. (CSL) of Minneapolis, Minnesota, presented its market analysis regarding USA football to the USA Board of Trustees. The trustees deferred immediate action on the report, and referred it to the Athletic Council of USA. The Athletic Council is to make a recommendation on football to the Board before its May meeting. The Athletic Council consists of the following members:

Regular Appointments Term Ends
Dale Adams, VP for Student Affairs (Chair)
Keith Ayers, Director of Public Relations
Richmond Brown, Dept. of History
Denise McAdory, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology
Arthur Jeffery, Dept. of Management
June, 2003
June, 2003
June, 2003
June, 2003
June, 2003
Mimi Fearn, Dept. of Earth Sciences
Happy Fulford, Director of Govt. Relations
Kathy Herndon, Registrar’s Office
Nola Allen, Chair, Dept. of Political Science
Bob Shearer, Assistant to the President
June, 2002
June, 2002
June, 2002
June, 2002
June, 2002
Doug Haywick, Dept. of Earth Sciences
Roy Martino, College of Medicine
Carlton Bellcase, Asst. VP, Personnel Relations
George Uhlig, Dean, College of Education
June, 2001
June, 2001
June, 2001
June, 2001

Ex officio Appointments (all voting)

Joe Gottfried, Director of Athletics
Pam Young, Associate Director of Athletics
Emily Hebert, SGA President (2000-01)
Jody Dunn, President, National Alumni Association (2000-01)
Jim Laier, President, Jaguar Athletic Club (2000-01)
Jamene Curd, Student Athlete (2000-01)
Dusty Dubbs, Student Athlete (2000-01)

Thus there are 21 members, including 7 faculty, 1 dean, 8 administrators, 2 alumni, and 3 students. There are 14 men and 7 women. In addition, Board of Trustees President Jack Brunson invited any trustees who desired to do so to join the council’s discussions.


Summary of the CSL Report

The CSL Report completes Step 2 of what Carr Sports Associates advised was a 3 step process. The first step was the institutional analysis conducted by Carr Sports Associates from November 1999 to February 2000. The third step is implementing football if the first 2 steps warrant it.

CSL is one of and perhaps the leading sports marketing and consulting firms in the US. It is routinely contracted to assess market opportunities for professional franchises and collegiate clients throughout the US. Based on a recommendation from a task force appointed by the USA Trustees in May 2000, which included Bob Shearer, Joe Gottfried, and Richmond Brown, the USA Trustees contracted CSL’s services in the summer of 2000.

Beginning with their initial site visit, CSL worked on the question of USA football between July 2000 and February 2001. Jeanine Kunz was originally designated as lead consultant. She resigned from CSL unexpectedly in September, and was replaced by Bill Rhoda, who is based in Dallas, TX. The transition accounts in part for the delay in issuing the final report. CSL worked closely with Keith Nicholls and USA Polling in designing and carrying out their research. Nicholls, Shearer, Gottfried, Brown and other USA personnel provided input in the designing of questionnaires and the identification and recruitment of 5 separate focus groups. Focus groups of students, faculty, alumni, and local corporations met in early October. Polling was conducted in October and November. Based on this data, CSL issued their report on February 22, 2001.

Their findings may be summarized as follows:

 

Comments

The CSL report is a thorough, professional study presented in an accessible format.

Overall, the CSL Report is more optimistic than the Carr Report. It projects greater revenues from concessions sales, contributions and donor seating, premium seating, and student fees. CSL accepts as given the Carr Report’s estimates of expenses.

Their figures include, however, $600,000 in revenue from the sale of premium seating that does not exist. If that amount is deducted, then projected annual losses are more than a million dollars. Both the assumed premium seating and luxury boxes would require extensive renovations of Ladd Peebles Stadium. CSL states that they do not include considerations of city support, but in incorporating the luxury suites and club seats, they have in fact done so.

The CSL Report is silent on major donors. CSL originally sought to determine if there were 40 major donors who would give $50,000 or more. In their report, however, they explain that an actual fund raising drive is the only way to know what kinds of large donations are possible to help raise the projected $8 to10 million Carr Sports Associates believes is necessary to allow the program to be self-supporting (CSL Report, 41).

For whatever reason, in their survey of Alabama Division I institutions, they omit Samford.

Was the student sampling of 286 students representative? Does the CSL report consider that the USA student body is 59% female, with an average age of 26, and perhaps a 3rd of the students "traditional"?

What percentage of students attend games at comparable schools?

Although the report suggests that USA football fundraising will likely not affect other university efforts, USA has never had a strong tradition or systematic program of external fundraising, even among alumni. USA has been frustrated in its on-going search for a development director and recent efforts to appoint an A&S associate dean for external relations also failed.

Community support for USA athletics is not strong. According to Hal Williams, there are only 300 members of the Jaguar Athletic Club, roughly 1/10 of whom are alumni.

CSL identifies more than 1,500 corporations in Mobile, but it should be borne in mind that Mobile now has few or no significant corporate headquarters. Notable losses in recent years include Delchamps, Morrison’s, and QMS. It should also be kept in mind that much of the economic data is taken from an earlier and economically healthier year. The December closing of IP, for example, is not reflected.

 

Economic Impact Statement

In his December 2000 Economic Impact Statement, appended to the CSL report, USA economist Semoon Chang estimates that USA football would have a $17 million annual impact. About half of that impact comes from direct contributions from USA: i.e. tuition for football players and band members, coaches’ salaries, etc. He estimates 290-300 new jobs for the Mobile area.

His figures are based on an average attendance of 25,000 for 6 home games, with 25% of the crowd coming from outside of Mobile County. His estimates are more optimistic than CSL’s.

 


Arguments in Favor of Football

Big-time college football is often credited with enhancing institutional identity, boosting alumni support, stirring student spirit, and increasing community interest. Another advantage cited for USA is the popularity of college football in Alabama. Mobile seems to face a relatively uncluttered market. USM in Hattiesburg, MS is the closest Division I-A football team, while Tuscaloosa and Auburn are 4 hours away. The availability of recently renovated, 40,000 seat Ladd-Peebles Stadium, host to the successful (and nationally televised) Senior Bowl and the GMAC Mobile Alabama Bowl, is considered another plus. There is an abundance of local and state football talent for USA to draw on.

Another good sign is the apparent willingness of USA students to tax themselves (at least the 286 that were sampled) substantially to pay for a football program. The success of USA club football over the last two years is another good omen. The SGA has plans to allot $75,000 for next year’s club football team. The one game played on-campus last year, and the two games hosted this year, each drew an estimated crowd of around 3,000. Promoters had hoped to draw even bigger crowds by moving the venue to Stanky Field, but attendance remained stubbornly at 3,000.

Following last year’s inspired performance against undefeated UNC, this year the Jaguars were undefeated. Organizers are to be congratulated on excellent scheduling. After a rousing win in the rematch against injury-plagued and flu-riddled UNC (who was down to its 5th quarterback -- normally a tight end), they beat the JV team of Averett College (VA) 55-0. That team was 0-4 when the Jags trounced them. Averett’s varsity was in its first year of Division III football, and finished 1-9.

Perhaps the strongest arguments in favor of football are negative ones. As Joe Gottfried and others argue, big-time collegiate sports tend to be TV driven and, by and large, football driven. Conference affiliation can and may depend on a school having football. In December 1999, Gerald O’Dell of Carr Sports Associates suggested that non-football playing members of Division I will be increasingly "non-viable."

In USA’s case, the argument goes, football may be necessary for USA to remain in the Sun Belt Conference. With the Sun Belt beginning football, complete with a tie-in to a New Orleans bowl game, USA may be forced out of the conference if it does not adopt football. Currently, of the 11 members of the Sun Belt, USA, UNO, UALR and Denver do not field football teams. Continuing conference realignment may exclude non-football playing members.

Football is almost certainly needed if USA is to join a better conference, such as Conference USA. Joe and Mike Gottfried have argued, in fact, that a combination of USA football, and their influence over the GMAC-Mobile Alabama Bowl (and its conference tie-ins), give USA unique leverage in gaining admission to the Conference USA.

Moreover, Gottfried and others argue that the need to pay for the $31 million Mitchell Center practically demands that USA remain in big-time athletics. And, of course, to do so requires football.

The question arises, "what happens to USA if we do not add football?"

 


Arguments Against Football

On the other hand, numerous arguments point against adopting football. Some are (hopefully) short-term. The current economic crisis hampers consideration of football. The threat of severe budget cuts has raised the possibility of no football in Mobile County Public Schools next year -- not the best atmosphere for starting college football here. The recent court decision which may shift the entire burden of education cuts to higher education will be catastrophic for USA, and preclude even thinking about starting something as costly as football.

More broadly, the economic difficulties affecting the city and state will likely undercut prospective fundraising efforts deemed so essential by Carr Sports Associates and CSL. City revenue shortfalls make it difficult for Mobile to meet existing financial obligations, much less take on new ones. The City was forced to renege on a pledge of $500,000 toward the costs of renovating USA’s track. An array of ambitious and costly projects stretch municipal dollars: a new museum of history (nearly $800,000 over budget), a multi-million dollar expansion of the art museum, two new libraries, $4 million for Ladd-Peebles’ parking lot, not to mention nearly a million dollars for a Walmart Supercenter parking lot, and prospective raises for city workers.

USA has it own share of problems. The nasty and crippling dispute with the USA Foundation persists. A major decision looms regarding the fate of Prime Health (and a possible switch to Blue Cross). Regardless, strong measures are needed in the face of rising health costs. The current athletic department shortfall of $300,000 (not including gender equity related expenses) also does not bode well.

Like the city, USA has its share of ambitious new projects: a cancer institute, a university transit system, technology enhancements, library expansion, and so forth. Each of these should have priority over football.

Overshadowing everything, of course, are the looming effects of proration, which will be somewhere between 6 and 20 percent, and which will no doubt affect next year’s budget as well.

Some constraints are more substantial or even structural. One is the (otherwise admirable) university pledge that no additional university revenues will be available for football. This includes, for example, the possible $10-14 million realized from the sale of Hillsdale housing.

Other hindrances are identified in the CSL Report. The report notes the limitations of the local market and the USA student and alumni base. It’s not clear whether the CSL Report takes into consideration the urban nature of USA or the heavily non-traditional elements of the USA student body. The report documents an appalling lack of alumni support.

 


The Realities of Big-time College Football

Despite the arguments in favor of football, the current football environment is such that only members of the 6 major conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10, and the SEC) and Notre Dame stand to prosper year after year. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) practically excludes outsiders from the ranks of the elite. Even among the major powers, while TV related profits have grown considerably, expenses have risen even faster, drawing cries of alarm about the continuing "arms race." Quality conferences such as Conference USA remain, for the most part, on the outside looking in. Neophytes such as the Sun Belt face even bigger hurdles.

According to the most recent NCAA analysis, "The gap between rich and poor athletics departments is growing" (CHE, Nov 17, 2000). This reinforces the picture painted by the Carr Report. As that report explains, "only an elite group is enjoying an actual net profit from football" (IV-1). "The line of demarcation between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of I-A is widened by the BCS arrangement and the continued, selective distribution of the enormous revenues is making it more difficult for non-BCS I-A programs to compete not only in football but in all sports."(II-3) The report observes, "A large majority of teams in each classification are financially insolvent." Furthermore, "a widespread revenue distribution scheme will not occur in Division I-A football. The current BCS membership will continue to control this process and act in its own self-interests."(II-5)

Until such time as the powers see fit to distribute football revenues more equitably, the picture for the outsiders is a bleak one. It seems unlikely that they will do so, however, and with some justification; they argue that they are drawing card. In 1999, the SEC had 7 of the top 14 spots in average attendance, and 8 of the top 21. The highest ranked team not in the Bowl Championship Series was Brigham Young at 22. Air Force was at 38, and East Carolina was 49. The other 47 of the top 50 spots were held by members of the BCS conferences. (NCAA appendices, CSL Report).

The Big Ten and the SEC are adamantly opposed to a revenue sharing plan similar to big-time basketball, which distributes NCAA tournament (aka "March Madness") revenues to conferences based on their participation and success in the tourney. Says Big Ten Commissioner James Delaney, "We’re not interested in letting college football go the way of college basketball. The NCAA has a role here, but it’s not to run college football" (CHE, Nov 24, 2000 and Jan 19, 2001).

Reports NCAA head Cedric Dempsey, "At the more than 970 NCAA member schools, we are bringing in just over 3 billion a year, but we are spending 4.1 billion." As he explains, "Pressure to keep up with the Joneses and truly be competitive has pushed many athletics programs – and their institutions– into great debt" (CHE, Jan 19, 2001).

Semoon Chang surmises that out of the 236 schools in I-A and I-AA, 90 had a net revenue from their football programs. 7 schools broke even and 131 schools lost money. Among the 90 schools that enjoyed a net revenue, 75 were I-A and 15 were I-AA. 38 I-A schools lost money on football. Keep in mind that almost all of the other sports, with the possible exception of men’s basketball, lose money, and that football is expected to help make up the difference.

As Welch Suggs explains, "Smaller programs in Division I-A incur debt to compete with the 63 colleges belonging to the Bowl Championship Series" (CHE, Jan 19, 2001). "The WAC, the Mountain West Conference, and the Mid-American Conference can’t compete with the Big Ten or the SEC for fans or television ratings, so they have no access to lucrative television contracts or bowl payouts. But they still have to compete with the powerhouses on the field and on the court – and at a substantial disadvantage" (CHE Nov 24, 2000).

In the conference (and TV reshuffling) of the past decade, "not everyone got a place at the new table. Other newly formed conferences, like Conference USA and the 16 team Western Athletic Conference, ended up in a second tier . . . .The Big Six conferences in the BCS retained the broadcast and marketing rights to the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls, and handed them to ABC in a package worth $525 million over seven years . . .The BCS has shut out the members of the other I-A leagues – Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference - from serious bowl and television money. None of those leagues’ teams have more than a remote shot at a bid to one of the $12.5 million championship-series bowls, or to the national championship" (CHE, Nov 24, 2000).

NCAA basketball is somewhat more equitable, but "two-thirds of the funds are going to the major conferences." "Their [the Big Six] actions have made it difficult for commissioners outside the Big Six to find money for their programs, which are struggling to compete with the powerhouses." As one non-BCS commissioner puts it, "they make my life hell" (CHE, Nov 24, 2000).

"The revenue gap point[s] to a key fear about college sports: that it’s becoming, or has already become, a more commercial enterprise than an academic one." Former SEC official and current Ohio University recreation professor John Gerdy wonders, "Are we headed down that slippery slope, where it becomes so pronounced, this separation between the haves and have-nots, where we’re buying into the entertainment values of the marketplace? You’re so divorced from the higher education community – the education of student-athletes – that you say, "Maybe we need to be divorced" (CHE, Nov 24, 2000).

In the most recent study, the NCAA "found that [athletic] departments that usually make profits are making larger ones, but that for the vast majority of institutions in Divisions I and II, expenses are rising faster than revenues." Says David Fulks, the man who compiled the NCAA report, "Our focus is going to have to be on the expense side, now and in the coming years . . . there’s a ceiling on the revenue side – we can only put so many seats in a stadium, we can only sell so many tickets, we can only raise ticket prices a certain amount, we can only get so much money out of TV and radio. But on the expense side, we don’t have those ceilings – there’s nothing to stop salaries and benefits from going up, grants in aid – those will move as the cost of education increases." The situation is probably even worse than the October study indicates because "it does not always account for indirect institutional support of athletics departments, such as maintaining facilities, paying off debts, or providing athletics scholarships" (CHE, Nov 17, 2001).

As the stakes have risen, so has the pressure to win. Ohio State coach John Cooper went 8-3 last year and was 111-43-4 at OSU (but 2-10-1 against Michigan). He was fired. It didn’t help that a star wide receiver had a GPA of 0.0, but if Cooper just could have beaten the Big Blue a few more times . . .

Similarly, Jim Donnan was fired at Georgia despite going 40-19 in 5 years, including 35 wins in the last 4. With the Bulldogs’ win in the 2000 Oahu Bowl, his teams had at least 8 victories in 4 consecutive seasons for only the second time in school history (despite lacking the services of his star QB Quincy Carter for most of the season). Of course his teams didn’t fare well against Tennessee, Florida, or Georgia Tech.

Donnan’s Oahu Bowl counterpart, George Welsh of Virginia, retired after 28 years at Navy and Virginia, in part due to the stresses of his 6-5 season. "I was feeling a lot more stress this year, and I couldn’t sleep. I was into sleeping pills, and I never had to do that before . . . As the season wore on it kind of got worse . . . I didn’t want to go through another year like this." "Welsh is afraid it’s only going to be worse for his successor. The Cavaliers have invested $86 million to increase their stadium’s seating capacity from 45,000 to 60,000 and to build luxury suites, which they will lease for $50,000 a year." Says Welsh, "Those people are going to be heard, so there’s going to be more pressure" (Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Dec 21, 2000).

As the Los Angeles Times pointed out in late January, "Two dozen major college football programs changed coaches in recent weeks." Many changes involved broken promises from schools and/or coaches. "I’ve never seen a year like this," Utah coach Ron McBride said. "Everything was crazy." "I think this has become a very unfortunate, no-holds-barred jungle," said ethicist Michael Josephson. "This is a special arena where the normal rules of honesty don’t seem to apply." As the Times notes "This is also a big-money arena. In virtually every state, the highest paid public employee is a university coach in either football or basketball. The biggest names in the business command upward of $1 million a season."

And with the money comes expectations. Texas coach Mack Brown quotes the famously witty Lou Holtz: "If you get a lifetime contract and you lose, they kill you" (Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2001). "Americans love college sports and they want their teams to win. The resulting pressure can be more than any college president or athletics director or coach can bear without resorting to some kind of cheating" (CHE Feb 23, 2001).

Alabama fired home-grown Mike Dubose following a 3-8 season in which the Crimson Tide was expected to contend for the national title. They hired TCU’s Dennis Franchione for 7 years at more than a million per (his base salary is $150,000; part of his compensation is a $900,000 talent fee). Meanwhile, Alabama faces the prospect of serious NCAA sanctions for reported recruiting violations committed under Dubose.

 


Realities of College Football in Alabama: Living with Twin Gorillas

Despite the Tide’s current travails, there is no doubt that Alabama has two of the top programs in the country. Alabamians love college football. But they love Alabama and Auburn football above all and practically to the exclusion of other suitors. It is said that football is a religion in Alabama. If so, there are only two mainstream denominations. The glaring success of our twin 800 pound gorillas (who can sit anywhere they want) illustrates the football craziness of this state, but blinds many to the fact that that success makes it difficult, if not impossible, for other programs to enjoy big-time success. It seduces the gullible into believing that Alabama and Auburn are the norm, rather than startling exceptions.

Alabama ranked 7th among I-A programs in average home attendance in 1999, whereas Auburn ranked 9th . Only the state of Florida comes close, with Florida 6th and Florida State 11th. Michigan was 1st and Michigan State was 18th, Texas was 8th and Texas A&M 25th, Clemson was 13th and South Carolina 14th.

Some context. In Ohio, for example, long established programs stagger under the weight of competing with The Ohio State University. Akron, Kent, Bowling Green, Ohio, Miami, and Toledo struggle to make it. Where Ohio State ranked 4th among 112 Division I-A schools in average attendance in 1998, Toledo came in at 77, Ohio at 92, Miami 100, Bowling Green 108, Akron 111, and Kent 112. Financially, OSU ranked 5th, with revenues of $26,445,720 and a surplus of more than $17 million. OSU has an athletics budget of nearly $70 million!

By contrast, Miami brought in $2.57 million and spent $2.52, Toledo brought in $1.1 million and spent $2.33 million, Ohio U. brought in $957,401 and spent $2.3 million, Bowling Green brought in $838,414 and spent $2.04 million, Kent State garnered $522,171 but paid out $2.23 million, and Akron reaped $411,632 and sowed $2.36 million. Alabama in effect has two Ohio States. One wonders if it needs any more Akrons and Kents.

South Carolina, a Deep South state with a population of 4 million (compared to Alabama’s 4.4) and also facing massive state budget cuts, is perhaps more comparable to the state of Alabama. Their twins are South Carolina and Clemson, in the SEC and ACC, respectively. In 1999, Clemson ranked 13th in Division I-A attendance and South Carolina 14th. In 1998, Clemson enjoyed revenues of $15,613,780, while spending nearly $8.8 million. South Carolina brought in $14,950,979 while spending $5.88 million. Their coaches, Lou Holtz and Tommy Bowden, both make more than a million dollars a year. They are the only Division I-A programs in the state. Meanwhile, among the state’s several I-AA programs, South Carolina State garnered $1.37 million while spending $1.26 million, Furman brought in $716,702 while spending $2.1 million, the Citadel brought in $712,739 while spending $1.95 million, Wofford brought in $275,592 while spending $1.24 million, and Charleston Southern brought in $79,596 while spending $724,534.

Apart from Alabama and Auburn, Alabama schools struggle to get fans into their stadiums and revenues into their coffers.

 

Division I Football Attendance in Alabama, 1998

Team

Home Games Average

Rank

UAB 6 18,165 (94th among 112 I-A teams)
Troy State 5 16,991 (11th among 119 I-AA teams)
Jacksonville State 6 11,916 (26th in I-AA)
Alabama State 4 11,515 (28th in I-AA)
Samford 5 4,002 (89th in I-AA)

 

In 1999, Troy State averaged 14,625, Alabama State 16,625, Alabama A&M 10,720, Jacksonville State, 9,090. Division II Tuskegee averaged 11,883 in 1999.

In 1998, the SEC had 5 out of the top 10 revenue producing football programs in the NCAA. It had 10 out of the top 25. Alabama was 3rd (28.2 million) and Auburn was 8th (22.9 million). Based on football alone, Alabama led the nation with a surplus of $21.75 million, while Auburn was 8th with a surplus at 14.1 million. The other schools did not enjoy the banquet. By some accounting miracle, UAB had revenues and expenses of exactly 4,021,793.

Despite the football windfall, Bama struggles to meet its overall athletic budget and is considering a fundraising program to raise it from $33 million to 40 million+. To stay competitive with the Tennessee Vols and the Florida Gators, the Tide is contemplating new facilities. Auburn just acquired a "sleek new jet" (a used version of which goes for more than $6 million) to aid in football and basketball recruiting (Mobile Register, Oct 29, 2000). Talk about an arms race. Of course, that was before impending proration moved AU to talk about a 40% tuition increase, layoffs, and a reduced work week.

Alabama Division I Schools, Reported Revenues and Expenses 1998 (in millions)

Team Revenues Expenses Surplus (Deficit)
Alabama 28.2 6.5 21.7 million
Auburn 22.9 8.8 14.1 million
UAB 4.02 4.02 0
Troy State .571 1.3 (729,000)
Samford .135 1.57 (1.45 million)
Jacksonville State .130 1.24 (1.11 million)

Every school but Alabama and Auburn suffered severe financial setbacks from football (including, from most reports UAB). "Johnny Williams, athletics director at Troy State University is . . . familiar with the problems. His department had revenues of 1.5 million and expenses of $4.8 million in 1998-9, losing 725,000 on football alone." As Welch Suggs puts it, "Rather than cutting back, Mr. Williams is expanding: the Alabama institution is moving its football team to Division I-A, which will cost millions but, Mr. Williams hopes, will bring in millions as well." Although he realizes that he will lose money for "the foreseeable future," he says, "that’s OK, because the athletics department is essentially a marketing product for the university . . .This is a tremendous vehicle to get yourself noticed" (CHE, Nov 17, 2000). But for what?

Not only is Troy State making the leap to I-A, so, apparently, is Alabama State. It would be the first historically black school to do so. Reports indicated that the Montgomery school seeks to build a new stadium at a cost of more than $90 million.

Compared to South Carolina’s two I-A programs, Georgia’s two, and Mississippi’s three, Alabama will have five in the near future. USA would make it six.

Some argue that Alabama’s obsession with college football is not a sign of health. Says Auburn’s Wayne Flynt, "All those people that are giving that money for that jet are having to make the decision that the football program is where the money is most needed." Concludes the history professor, "‘I am no longer sure Auburn has financial problems,’ he said, referring to cash flow troubles cited by the Board of Trustees in recent academic cutbacks. ‘I think maybe Auburn has priority problems. I think some people are willing to make almost any sacrifice to make sure Auburn is in the Top 20 in football. But I’m not sure anyone is willing to make that same kind of sacrifice to make sure a National Merit Scholar comes here.’" He adds, "I think Alabama and Auburn are both dangerously close to having the tail wag the dog. And this is not just an Auburn problem. This is a [state] problem" (Mobile Register, Oct 29, 2000).

 


Sun Belt Conference Football

As the Carr Report says several times, "You are who you play." The good news for USA football plans is that the Sun Belt Conference will begin I-A football as a championship sport next season.

The league champion will have a guaranteed slot in the New Orleans Bowl, to be played in the Superdome in December. Football brings new opportunities for television revenues.

The bad news is that the football playing members of the Sun Belt make for an impossibly spread out conference with few traditional rivalries and small hopes that visiting fans will pour into Ladd-Peebles. Once FIU begins football in 2002, the conference will stretch from Miami, Florida to Pullman, WA, and from Bowling Green, Kentucky to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Travel costs alone will be a major concern. And as the CSL report shows, none of the future Sun Belt schools came even close to meeting NCAA Division I-A attendance requirements last year. Nor is the financial picture of the Sun Belt football schools any more reassuring.

 

Future Sun Belt Football Schools, 2000

School

Location

Enrollment

Home Games

Avg. Home Attendance

Stadium Capacity

W-L (Conf.)

Arkansas State

Jonesboro

9,800

5

11,514

33,410

1-10
(1-4)

Idaho

Moscow*

13,000

4

16,855

37,600

5-6
(3-2)

Louisiana-Lafayette

Lafayette

17,500

5

14,624

31,000

1-10

Louisiana-Monroe

Monroe

11,000

5

9,826

30,427

1-10

Middle Tennessee State

Murfreesboro

18,400

5

12,165

31,000

6-5

New Mexico State

Las Cruces

15,800

5

15,826

30,343

3-8
(1-4)

North Texas

Denton

25,000

4

14,180

30,000

3-8
(1-4)

*Idaho plays home games in nearby Pullman, WA

 

Prospective Sun Belt Teams’ Football Revenues and Expenses, 1998 (in millions)

Team   Revenues Expenses Surplus (Deficit)
Idaho   3.4 2.4 1 million
North Texas 2.25 2.02 230,000
Louisiana Monroe 1.58 1.83 (250,000)
Middle Tennessee 1.54 1.62 (80,000)
New Mexico State 1.43 2.5 (1.17 million)
Arkansas State 1.17 2.45 (1.28 million)
Louisiana Lafayette 1.00 2.12 (1.12 million)
Western Kentucky (I-AA) 1.5 1.29 210,000

 

The football prowess of the Sun Belt teams is also less than overwhelming. Their combined record in 2000 was 20-57 (in 1999 it was 29-48). Most of the wins came against each other. They were 1 and 19 against BCS teams.

Not to be cruel, or to pile on, but some of last year’s highlights include the following:

Perhaps a silver lining to this dark cloud is that USA stands a fair chance to be competitive in the Sun Belt football as soon as it enters the fray.

 

The Future

USA is a charter member of the Sun Belt (since 1976), and by far the longest tenured (with 25 years in the conference). Being evicted seems unlikely. But if that happens, is that really so bad?

It seems that the brothers Gottfried would actually welcome a move from the Sun Belt. They pin their hopes on Conference-USA. With TCU joining, the conference is up to 11 football playing members, one shy of the magic number of 12 that allows for 2 divisions and a league championship game. C-USA certainly makes more sense than the current Sun Belt lineup, and would seem to be the best possibility for USA, with potential rivals in UAB, Tulane, USM, Memphis and Louisville. Despite the possibility of USA wedging into the conference via the Mobile Alabama Bowl, such schools as the University of Central Florida, Florida International University, Rice and Tulsa all seem to be more logical additions – larger or more established schools in larger markets. Of course, unless the C-USA can get into the BCS, even their prospects are restricted.

 


The Corroding Effects of Big-Time Collegiate Athletics

Beyond the challenges of big-time college football, football in Alabama, and football in the Sun Belt, others see even more fundamental problems. An avalanche of recent publications decries the abuses in college athletics, and entities like the Drake Group, the Knight Commission, and the NCAA itself are all talking reform.

An array of recent scholarly works laments the realities and the direction of college sports. Several of these are reviewed in a recent essay by former Notre Dame football player and current New Haven management professor Allen L. Sack ("A Rout for Sports," The Chronicle Review, January 26, 2001).

Sack played football for the Fighting Irish in the mid 1960s. "The gap between college sports and the fundamental mission of higher education has widened significantly since that time." With changes in the way that athletic scholarships are awarded, "Even academically oriented athletes [have] little choice but to make sports their main priority. Longer seasons, significantly lower admissions standards for athletes, and the growing power of coaches over all aspects of an athlete’s life are just a few of the changes spawned by the unprecedented commercialism that has invaded athletics departments."

Sack cites John S. Watterson, who in College Football: History, Spectacle, Controversy, concludes that since 1929, "attempts to control professionalism and protect academic standards have generally failed." Watterson, he writes, "leaves little doubt that the NCAA compromised amateur principles when it decided to allow financial aid to be tied to athletic performance."

Another new book is by James Duderstadt, former president of Michigan. In his Intercollegiate Athletics and the American University, he "argues that athletes at institutions with big-time sports programs have been transformed into employees of the athletics department. He also contends that "the vast majority of Division I football programs are in reality cost drivers rather than revenue producers." Addressing the Knight Commission, Duderstadt explained that "college athletics resembles show business much more than academe . . . and is ‘viewed as highly corrupt by the academy and deemed corrosive to our academic mission’" (CHE, Oct 27, 2000).

The most disturbing book is Murray Sperber’s Beer and Circus: How Big Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education. "Colleges and universities with big-time-sports programs have been transformed into intellectual wastelands." Research oriented professors and institutions have encouraged or acquiesced in the downplaying of teaching undergraduates because they want to be left alone to do their research. Instead, they promote a "Beer and Circus" atmosphere to recruit and entertain undergraduates. As a result, "For many students, college has become an endless spring break." Sperber, of course, is an Indiana University English professor best known for his criticism of then IU basketball coach, Bob Knight. Sperber is now "on leave" from IU. (Incidentally, Alabama recently moved up to 2nd among "party schools" in The Princeton’s Review’s annual listing. The others in the Top 5 are BCS powers LSU at 1, Texas at 3, Florida State at 4 and Colorado at Boulder at 5. Denver Post, August 17, 2000).

James Shulman’s and William G. Bowen’s The Game of Life is perhaps just as disturbing. Surveying some 90,000 students from 30 "selective" schools over 40 years, they argue that athletic values have corrupted not only the powerhouses, but even elite liberal arts colleges, who reserve a healthy (or unhealthy) share of their exclusive admissions to athletes. As a rule, the athletes did less well academically than either their peers or than they should have given their SAT scores and other predictors. Other findings of the Bowen/Shulman book:

Sack concludes, sadly, that no one seems to care about all this. Swarthmore, at least, was so concerned about the proportion of athletes admitted that it recently decided to end its football program. Of course, it has a billion dollar endowment (CHE, Dec 5, 2000 and Feb 23, 2001).

In most cases, however, would-be reformers are stymied. The Knight Commission is divided, the NCAA is stalemated, and the Drake Group of reform-minded professors encounters mainly apathy and cynicism. The Knight Commission is expected to meet once more in mid-April before it issues its final report. The Drake group will meet again in March. "But both groups say they are up against a set of societal expectations. Americans love college sports and they want their teams to win" (CHE Feb 23, 2001).

Says Knight Commission member and 1951 Heisman Trophy winner, Richard Katzmaier, "If people want to go to 107,000 seat stadiums and watch athletes perform who are marginally enrolled but are all in the same uniform, under the same coaching leadership, out there bringing glory to the people in the stands who say, ‘This is what we want, a victorious, successful group of athletes on the field,’ I don’t know that anybody’s going to change that, other than to say, ‘That’s what exists.’ But let’s not operate under the pretense that these are students. They’re not" (CHE, Feb 23, 2001).

Joe Whitt, a wide receiver at Auburn, in addressing the Knight Commission told coaches: "You ought to graduate your kids, not lie to your kids. [Coaches] tell you to go to your classes and take your studies seriously. But when it comes down to it, it’s just about staying eligible." (CHE, Dec 8, 2000).

Says the Chronicle’s Welch Suggs, "The NCAA has had a difficult time effecting any change, because universities are often held hostage by boosters, trustees, and fans, all of whom demand winning teams" (CHE, Dec 8, 2000). In effect, even if you win, you lose. As "Lily Tomlin used to say, "‘The trouble with the rat race is that, even if you win, you’re still a rat.’"(cited in Los Angeles Times, January 31, 2001).

 


A Football Glut?

Less weighty concerns also come into the picture. Mobile is located within reasonable driving distance to Tuscaloosa and Auburn. Two other major programs, Florida State (11th in attendance in 1999) and LSU (12th) are within 4 hours’ driving time. LSU just added several thousand seats to Tiger Stadium, which now seats 91,000.

The NFL’s New Orleans Saints offer another option that may compete (indirectly) with USA football, absorbing local entertainment dollars.

Even if local fans do not travel to nearby game sites (Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Tallahassee, Baton Rouge, New Orleans or Hattiesburg), USA faces competition from televised games. Every Saturday from September to December, ESPN and ESPN2 begin broadcasting Big Ten college football games at 10 am. West Coast games on the ESPN and Fox networks stretch to midnight and beyond. Jefferson Pilot carries an SEC game at 11 am central each week. ABC starts as early as 11 am, usually carries a high-profile game at 2:30 pm, and sometimes broadcasts a 7 pm game involving BCS teams. CBS usually carries the top SEC game each week at 2:30. NBC broadcasts all Notre Dame home games, usually in the early afternoon. ESPN carries a leading game at 6 pm. Collegiate Sports Southeast carries games of regional interest, usually beginning in the afternoon. CSS sometimes shares a channel with ESPN Plus, which offers other Big Ten contests. On those rare occasions when Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, and LSU are not televised, fans can opt to watch on a pay per view basis. Local sports bars offer fans a game like atmosphere and the choice of dozens of games they may not be able to get at home.

Beyond televised games that might directly compete with USA football, ESPN broadcasts a high-profile game each Thursday night (signaling the start of the football weekend). Friday nights at this point are still reserved for high school games. The NFL owns Sunday, and now ESPN broadcasts a prime time game Sunday night, and of course, ABC (a sister of ESPN) features Monday Night Football from September to January. From Thursday evening through Monday evening, then, the football fan can gorge himself on football.

Indeed, CSS replays many of the previous weekend’s SEC and ACC games each night during the week (preceded by replays of the ever-popular coaches’ shows). Alabama night is Friday.

Billionaire Vince McMahon of WWF fame recently launched the XFL in partnership with NBC. The league began play shortly after the Super Bowl. It gained astounding television ratings on its opening night, but since then, XFL ratings have seen a free fall. Birmingham fields a team in the new league. Asked reporter Kevin Scarbinsky after the second game, "where was everybody?" The announced attendance dropped from 36,133 for game 1, to 17,582 for game 2 and the Bolts’ promoters now know what UAB’s boosters feel like (Birmingham News, Feb 19, 2001).

Additionally, Mobile has its own indoor league team, the Mobile Seagulls, which reportedly will move to the Mitchell Center for their second season. (What will happen to the Mitch’s $800,000 scoreboard over center court is a good question).

 


The Athletic Council

Cleaning up college sports or solving society’s ills are perhaps beyond the scope (and means) of the Athletic Council. Nevertheless, the council should address several questions as it debates the merits of adopting football at USA.

It should examine closely the recommendations of the Carr Report, particularly in terms of projected expenses. It should update or revise those estimates in cases where circumstances have changed or where the report overlooked potential costs. For example, the recent tuition and fee hikes automatically increase the cost of scholarships. The Council should try to arrive at more specific costs of new facilities and personnel.

The council should also come to more specific estimates of costs related to gender equity as outlined in the Carr Report and in the May 2000 Athletic Council Subcommittee report identifying items of immediate, medium-term, and long-term need.

The council should examine closely the findings of the CSL Report. Of most concern is the willingness of students to tax themselves so substantially. The possibility and effects of such measures need more clarification and demonstration before they are adopted.

 


Options and Recommendations for the Athletic Council and the USA Trustees

 

Option 1: No football

Recommendation: None, except a well-articulated explanation to USA constituencies

 

Option 2: Enhance commitment to campus recreation and intramural sports

Recommendation: increase student fees by $5 or 10 per semester; mount a capital campaign for an indoor pool and outdoor recreation facilities (bicycle trails, etc)

 

Option 3: Club Football played on campus

Recommendation: implement student fees of approximately $5 per semester; the SGA is proposing to commit $75,000

 

Option 4: I-AA non-scholarship football played on campus

Recommendation: after conducting a thorough survey of student opinion, and pending a favorable response, implement student fees of $15 to 20 per semester, to cover expenses of enhancing university facilities, coaches and support systems, and to help pay for expenses related to gender equity issues (such as the possible need or desire to add women’s fast-pitch softball or swimming and diving)

 

Option 5: Adopt I-A football, implemented according to Carr Plan

Recommendation: After thorough surveys of all students, and pending a favorable response, enact student fees of $30-50 per semester; establish a donation threshold of $ 5-10 million that must be reached before moving forward with football

 

Option 6: Adopt I-A football according to Carr Plan, but delay implementation until economic cloud clears

Recommendation: same as Option 5

 

Of the options listed above, a combination of 2 and 3 is most consonant with student needs and the university mission.

 


Conclusions

Based on nearly two years of careful study, three Faculty Senate reports, and two professional consultant reports costing approximately $100,000, it is clear that Division I college football at USA is not viable, at least in the short term. Long-term prospects are perhaps just as dubious:

 


Members of the USA Faculty Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Football, 1999-2001

Richmond Brown, Associate Professor of History (Chair)
David Bowers, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Criminal Justice
Stephen Kayes, Professor of Cell Biology
Douglas Haywick, Associate Professor of Geology
Stephen Morris, Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies
Jim Norman, Associate Librarian
Cindy Stanfield, Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences