Money controls the world of college athletics. We all know this. Anybody who has followed college football or basketball for any length of time knows this. Maybe it’s not discussed as much as it should be, but it’s something everybody recognizes.
And this point was brutally clear last summer when the Big Ten announced its new deal with FOX. While it wasn’t the first deal for college sports broadcasting rights, it was one of the biggest, reportedly giving each Big Ten school roughly $35.5 million annually under the new television deal, up from $27 million during the previous year.
There’s money and then there’s moneyyyy.
There’s little debating that this deal fell into the latter category.
Big Ten fans hoped that the new deal would lead to better facilities for the student athletes, bigger coaching salaries, and, ultimately, better experiences for the students and fans. Teams could finally go through with the renovations they had been putting off, which should lead to more competitive programs, at least on paper.
However, as I vehemently argued at the time, these beliefs were simplpy public relations arguments to justify a money grab by the Big Ten and its administrators. Instead of making a move in the long-term interests of the conference, Jim Delany and his partners signed a contract motivated to line their own pockets.
That may sound hyperbolic, but let’s dig into this a little deeper.
To start, there’s little denying that FOX trails behind ESPN in the college football world. FOX supporters and ESPN haters will claim otherwise, but they’re wrong. ESPN consistently has better camera angles, announcers, and promotion than FOX. There are things fans love about FOX (looking at you, Gus Johnson), but when evaluated from the top down, ESPN simply puts out a better product.
If you want an example, just check out some of the comments from last Saturday’s game between Michigan and Purdue. People were not fans of the camera angles:
Where are these camera shots coming from? The space station— Mark Champion (@nbamark) September 23, 2017
Hey @FOXSports does the camera crew for MICH/PUR know what a zoom button is because I'm watching ants out there. This coverage is Horrid.— Augie Fredsters (@afredricks25) September 23, 2017
Dear Fox Sports camera man on the Michigan game...zoom in the game cam. We don’t need All-22. This is gonna get annoying.— Jordan Strack (@JordanStrack) September 23, 2017
This isn’t a unique event either. Not every broadcast features terrible angles, but ESPN rarely has these issues. ESPN isn’t perfect, but it’s general production of college games is simply better than FOX. Add in everything else surrounding a game and the comparison isn’t even all that close, at least to me.
Now, that standing may change over time. After all, FOX is investing a great deal in the Big Ten and its college sports promotion. The network brought in a big name actor for its recent advertising series and has made an effort to promote the biggest games it will be broadcasting this fall.
However, FOX isn’t going to pass ESPN overnight. Things like College Gameday are staples of college football and basketball coverage. And, more importantly, ESPN controls the college sports narrative. The general public cares about ESPN’s event coverage and what their talking heads have to say.
Maybe you, as a fan, resent that, but it’s true. ESPN’s ratings may be declining, but FOX’s weekday sports coverage is struggling to even register. Their highest paid personality continues to get beat by ‘90s sitcom reruns. If FOX is promoting its games on networks that nobody watches, are they really promoting the games at all?
And while ESPN’s public relations group will disagree, one has to wonder if the effects of the Big Ten’s jump to FOX are already being felt. Last weekend, Penn State’s trip to Iowa seemed like an easy pick for College Gameday, but the network instead opted to travel to New York City. Though this could be a stretch, one does wonder if Gameday would have went to Iowa City if the Big Ten had remained with ESPN. And considering the value of Gameday, that would be a big hit to Iowa and its national perception.
FOX’s promotions have also come with mixed reactions as well. Nebraska recently asked FOX to stop using one of its commercials and the network had one of the most bizarre promotions you will ever see in New York City for the Big Ten. Even when FOX is trying to promote things, it doesn’t seem to be going well.
Simply put, FOX seems to be spending a lot of time promoting its games on networks nobody watches or screwing up its promotions altogether. That’s a pretty substantial downgrade from the promotional machine that has College Gameday, especially when you add in the fact that the games, generally, aren’t broadcast as well.
For more proof, just look back at Saturday’s matchup between Michigan and Purdue. Despite being FOX network’s first league Big Ten game of the new deal, FOX decided to bump it to Fox Business channel for a baseball game. FOX also bumped Maryland’s matchup with UCF for a NASCAR race. I don’t have anything against baseball or NASCAR and understand that games can go longer than planned, but shouldn’t FOX wants to make a statement about its coverage for its first few Big Ten games?
This leaves us with a pretty ugly picture about the Big Ten’s deal with FOX.
Through the first month of the deal, fans have already dealt with misguided promotions, bad camera angles, decreased production value, and multiple games on the FOX Business channel. Again, maybe this improves, but it’s been a rough go for what is easily one of the two biggest college conferences in the nation.
But what about the money?
The money’s got to be good, right?
As was detailed above, every Big Ten school is going to make a massive amount of money from this deal. Even the skeptics can’t deny this fact. For many, this is why the deal was signed. Most probably would prefer the games on ESPN or elsewhere, but most figured this was a sacrifice to make more money. After all, there was a reason why FOX would be paying a premium price to the Big Ten. The promotion and production might be worse, but the league would make more money.
However, early returns are not great in that regard either.
If you want an example of what that money has done so far, just think about this. Jim Delany received a $20 million dollar (!!!) bonus this offseason, despite the fact that Purdue’s football stadium still has visiting locker rooms without air conditioning.
That’s absolutely mind blowing. Delany is living like Scrooge McDuck while the student athletes (that make the Big Ten and Delany their money) are enduring 100 degree temperatures in a dated locker room. Under the current model, student athletes are never going to get compensated the same way as top-level administrators. But just seems inherently wrong.
College Tuition Compare estimated the average Big Ten tuition cost at $33,177 a year for out-of-state students in 2015-’16. I don’t pretend to know the exact amount a football scholarship costs for Big Ten programs, but based upon that number, Delany’s bonus this season could have paid for roughly 600 scholarships.
Moreover, it also seems reasonable to assume that Delany’s monstrous bonus could have covered air conditioning for Purdue’s locker rooms as well. Hell, local YMCAs manage to have air conditioned locker rooms. What’s the point of signing a FOX deal that awards the Big Ten hundreds of millions of dollars if it can’t even give the student athletes the same facilities as a YMCA?
To make sure Delany and other administrators pad their pocketbooks.
Perhaps things will change in the coming months and years with the Big Ten’s new FOX deal, but, so far, this looks like a deal that only serves the purpose of benefiting Delany and his fellow administrators. Fans have been subjected to an inferior product and student athletes are made to play in absurd conditions while Delany and his partners make off like bandits.
As long as college sports remain under the current system, there will always be inequity between the administrators and athletes, but it’s time the Big Ten front office stops throwing athletes and fans under the bus to benefit itself.