Good morning, and thanks for spending part of your day with Extra Points.
Before we hop into today’s story, I want to quickly tell you a bit about one of today’s sponsors.
Even under new ownership, there’s a lot that goes into running Extra Points beyond reporting and newsletter writing. I speak to college classes, try to write computer games, sell advertising partnerships, run multiple social media accounts, and much more.
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Last Friday, the Big Ten and SEC shook the college sports world with a colossal announcement. They’re talking to each other.
Okay, I’m underselling that a little bit. Specifically, the two conferences announced they have formed “…a joint advisory group of university presidents, chancellors, and athletics directors to address the significant challenges facing college athletics and the opportunities for betterment of the student-athlete experience.”
So what does that really mean? Lord knows that if there’s one thing college athletics does not lack, it’s working groups between higher education administrators.
For one, it’s notable to point out what this group doesn’t include. It doesn’t include any authority to act independently of any conference stakeholders. It doesn’t (at the moment) include any leaders from any other conference. It also doesn’t, (at the moment) include any coaches, or even more importantly, athletes.
A group without athletes, coaches, academics, industry leaders or lawyers is functionally no different from the legions of other NCAA and conference subcommittees that have been unable to meaningfully address the NCAA’s problems. The only difference is that this group didn’t invite the ACC or Horizon League.
Leaders of both the Big Ten and SEC have also adamantly stated to the press that this group isn’t about an effort to break away from the NCAA…something I actually believe, although I understand why maybe some fans don’t.
So what do they want? Via ESPN:
So where could this SEC-Big Ten partnership show up to forge the future of college sports? The simple answers are lawsuit settlement and revenue share.
Multiple sources told ESPN there's a lot of chatter that this SEC-Big Ten arm-linking could manifest itself amid the thicket of lawsuits facing the NCAA. Some of the wealthiest conferences want to find a way to settle those suits -- particularly the billions in potential exposure of House v. NCAA -- and use the settlement structure to create a path forward.
For what it’s worth, I’ve also heard a strong desire to find a way to settle House before the case goes to trial from college sports industry professionals, including many who work at the mid and low-major level. While it’s the largest leagues that are named defendants, the Big Sky and ASUN would certainly prefer that the NCAA doesn’t go completely bankrupt from paying lawsuit damages.
Such a settlement would likely require not just a significant monetary payment to cover the damages, but a structure for athlete revenue-sharing that would protect the leagues from future antitrust lawsuits.
But even that isn’t completely in the hands of the Big Ten, SEC, and expensive NCAA lawyers. As the Dartmouth NLRB ruling from earlier this week showed, the court system is taking aim at the employment classification of athletes. A non-employment revenue-style system might protect the Big Ten and SEC in House, but future court rulings could still blow their system up by attacking it elsewhere.
There’s no advisory group among college sports administrators that can prevent the employment classification of athletes, short of one that decides, “okay, we’ll simply ask our athletes to do far less.” The only pathway to that goal lies in Congress…and we can see how well that’s going right now.
I don’t want to say this group is meaningless…but I am skeptical
It’s true, the Big Ten and SEC have more financial horsepower than anybody else in college athletics. They’re going to dominate the composition of the future College Football Playoff, they’re going to dominate conversations about the sharing of revenue, and if they’re working in concert on some issues, they’re going to have more industry influence than the Big South…or the Big 12.
Throughout college football history….hell, very recent college football history, these leagues have also been more antagonists than allies. The Alliance, a doomed conference call from the start, was formed partly out of a desire to form a cohesive institutional identity of we’re not the SEC. From the Sanity Code to Bowl Season, TV broadcast control to the definition of amateurism, the Big Ten and SEC have often been at loggerheads.
To put those historical, cultural, and political differences to the side for a moment to work on bigger problems…sure, that’s significant.
But I’ve also been burned by press releases about working groups before, especially ones that look very similar to other working groups. Or alliances, if you will.
Here’s the dirty little secret
The idea that the Cleveland States and Hofstras of the world are somehow holding the Big Ten and SEC back from meaningful reform is…not accurate in the autonomy era. There is very little that the major conferences actually really want to do that the NCAA legislative process is preventing them from doing. The NCAA governance process is Kafkaesque, and everything takes longer than it probably should, but that’s not the real barrier here.
The problem is that the Big Ten and SEC aren’t actually in charge. They can’t come up with a policy reform, by themselves, that will stand up to legal challenges. There are too many antitrust liabilities, too many labor law liabilities, and now, too much political benefit at stake for state AGs to take a whack at the NCAA piñata whenever good ol’ State U is inconvenienced.
The court system is now, fundamentally, in charge of college sports. Reform might make a pit stop at the Rosemont offices of the Big Ten, but its actual destination is in Congress and courtrooms. Those are the folks who will decide who is an employee and who is an employer, who needs to be at the bargaining table, and what the new rules of college sports will be.
It doesn’t look like those folks are invited to this working group. I’ll be ready to pay more attention when they are.
Here’s what else I wrote this week:
I’m very proud of this. We launched a massive new update to our computer game, Athletic Director Simulator 4000. This new version has better graphics, way more questions, more customizability, and more. It’s free to play for all of our paid subscribers.
I also wrote an analysis of the Dartmouth NLRB ruling…what it means for international athletes, Olympic sports, future labor cases, and much more.
And finally, I wrote an op-ed about Tennessee’s latest battle with the NCAA over potential NIL policy violations. Tennessee may very well be right in their arguments, and will likely prevail in court…but I don’t feel particularly sorry for them.
If podcasts or videos are more of your thing, I discussed college sports NIL reforms and our reporting on college tax filings with my new colleagues over at Kings of the North. I also discussed substantially less serious stuff with the Message Board Geniuses.
There are two other ways to catch me and my work this month outside the newsletter
On Thursday, Feb 15, I will be joining a panel of other journalists and activists to discuss the impact of conference realignment on athletes and the college sports industry with The Drake Group. The discussion will be from 2-3:30 EST. Registration is free. Click here if you’d like to check it out. I’ll probably do a newsletter after the 15th.
If you’re in the Madison, WI area, I will be doing a book event with my dear friend and former SB Nation colleague, Jason Kirk. We’ll be at Lake City Books in Madison at 7 PM on Feb 29. Jason wrote an absolutely hilarious and moving novel about the evangelical youth experience. If you’d like to say hello and listen to a few college football Twitter folks talk about Jesus and Evangelical churches and Mormon stuff and probably other things, come on by!
If you’d like a little something else to read in your inbox that isn’t about college sports, check out our other sponsor, The Bay Area Times:
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Thanks for reading everybody. I’ll see you on the internet.
If you’d like to buy ads on Extra Points OR in ADS4000, good news! We have a few unsold slots left for March. Drop me a line at email@example.com. If you have news tips or FOIAs you want to share, I’m at Compliance@ExtraPointsMB.com. Otherwise, I’m at Matt@Extrapointsmb.com, @MattBrownEP on Twitter, @ExtraPointsMB on Instagram, and @MattBrown on Bluesky