JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When the Big Ten and Pac-12 canceled football this fall in their conferences, they said it was because of the threat of the coronavirus. But not everyone believes that was the only reason for the decision.
A longtime college sports reporter with local ties to Jacksonville says there was something else at play. And, as usual, you can follow the money on this one.
Matt Hayes has been covering college sports for three decades. He writes for Bleacher Report now and can be heard on 1010XL radio here in town. He wrote this week that the decisions made by the two conferences were not just about health and safety, but about the fear of a growing movement for college football players to organize and demand a piece of a multi-billion dollar pie.
When you talk about money in college sports, the figures are astounding. During 2019, the Big Ten made over three-quarters of a billion dollars from all college sports. The biggest chunk of that figure can be traced to college football.
While the numbers aren’t quite as large in the Pac-12, the fact that as many as a thousand players in the two conferences were pushing for a revenue-sharing agreement shows how big a financial issue this is—and the driving force as to why two of the biggest conferences in college sports made the call to push off college football season.
“There’s no doubt,” Hayes said. “Multiple industry sources tell me they are flat out scared to death. And that’s the issue right now because there are things that are called for college athletics throughout and it always happens, but there’s really only one existential threat. And that’s players organizing. it’s so much of a bigger deal than the virus.”
Two factors have accelerated college players’ demands to be paid. First, the ongoing Name Images Likeness (NIL) debate that would allow players to profit from their own image, which they cannot do right now under NCAA rules. And second, the reignited social justice movements across the country that have shown the power that organized groups can have to influence traditional institutions.
“It’s an idea of they can’t get their arms around right now. They don’t know what to do,” Hayes said. “They don’t know what to do. They can’t get their arms around the Name Image Likeness deal, which should have been done a decade ago, and then we wouldn’t be in this situation. Because in the last nine years of players getting NIL, and working together figure out the best way to eliminate cheating, we wouldn’t even be at this point. But here we are because they refused to do it.”
So, how is this all going to shake out? Of course, if we’ve learned one thing during 2020, it’s how impossible it is to predict the future. But, Hayes thinks we’ll see an incomplete season, but some kind of season nonetheless.
“The conferences will try to play,” Hayes said. “They’ll get a few games in. There will be an outbreak, they’ll pause. They’ll get another game or two in. There will be another outbreak. They’ll pause again. They are all scheduling 10 or 11 games. My guess is they’ll get five or seven games in and they’ll call it a season. Quite honestly, that’s five or seven games of TV money they weren’t going to get prior.”