Welcome back, SporticoU readers. As I’m sure you’ve deduced by now, this is a newsletter dedicated to college athletics and everything the enterprise entails. It can be easy to get lost in the sports bubble and lose sight of the fact that the programs, players and coaches we write about all exist within much bigger campus communities. They are part of a university, a student body. They are part of something more than just a team or a sport.
One of these communities—Michigan State—is in mourning this week in the aftermath of a horrendous tragedy. At least three lives were taken, all students, and five others injured in a shooting Monday evening that shook the Spartans’ campus to its core.
Please join us in keeping Michigan State in our thoughts and taking a moment to honor the lives lost. It feels impossible to ignore that this is not the first time I’ve had to write these words in one of these columns. And yet, here we are again.
Although it can seem even more trivial in times like these, the college sports world does keep spinning. Last week, Oklahoma and Texas agreed to terms (in principle, meaning the agreement still needs final approval from their governing boards) to pay the Big 12 a whopping $100 million to leave a year earlier than originally planned and join the SEC in 2024.
Even for Texas, that kind of money in exit fees is a lot of cash. During the 2022 fiscal year, the Longhorns brought in $239 million in revenue (second only to Ohio State’s almost $252 million), but also tallied $225 million in expenses. In theory, the schools will be able to offset the cost of leaving at least in part with the additional revenue they’ll earn by being members of the SEC vs. the Big 12. Before adding Texas and Oklahoma, SEC teams were preparing to receive annual conference distributions of more than $66 million apiece with their new TV agreement, which starts in 2024. But that doesn’t necessarily make the sum easier to swallow up front.
There’s also been more chatter about expanding the future men’s and women’s basketball tournaments as this year’s versions creep closer with each passing week. Teams are rounding out their regular season slates and preparing for conference championships and the biggest cash cow of them all: March Madness.
Expanding the fields begs many questions about format, exclusivity, athlete well-being and so on, but you also have to wonder: Would CBS and Turner Sports be willing to pay more for an even bigger Big Dance? And if so, how much more?
The long-term TV deals for the men’s tournament are already set to pay the NCAA $19.6 billion over the 22-year term. You read that right—in the 2022 fiscal year alone, the NCAA earned $940 million for its media rights, the bulk of which comes from the men’s March Madness rights. Given the contract’s escalators, it’ll make even more off the deal this year.
Adding teams would mean adding inventory for the broadcast partners, but it’s more nuanced than that. Expanding could mean be adding more play-in games, which may not be as valuable to a TV partner, for example. With more participants, the NCAA would also have more teams to pay out for their performances in March Madness. Conferences get a certain amount of money from the NCAA each year based on how many men’s teams they send dancing and how far each goes.
Then, there’s the women’s media rights, which are up for renegotiation soon. Knowing what to expect from future tournaments is probably something broadcast partners interested in the women’s tournament (which is currently wildly undervalued) will want.
Moral of the story: There are a lot of factors to consider here.
Before I let you go, please take the time to read today’s op-ed, written by Dr. Billy Hawkins, a professor at the University of Houston, in honor of Black History Month. Remembering the history of college athletics—the good and the bad—is key to building a better future, and Dr. Hawkins deftly does just that.
Hopefully, it will be a future free of the struggles he details and senseless violence that visited Michigan State.