Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples wrote a story a few weeks ago about the Collegiate Athletic Select Hegemony (CASH). Under this plan, the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-10 and SEC would become 16-team super leagues and break away from the NCAA. It would not create a playoff system for college football, but the resulting money from bowl games and television coverage would mean that;
64 athletic departments would be completely self-sufficient; no chief executive would ever again have to explain to a state legislature why he needs government funds to build a softball stadium
This week, the Florida State Legislature began their annual session of being ideologues more worried about raising cash than governing for 60 days. Among the issues already discussed are building casinos and making sure there is money for people to get gun permits. Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Education is in a high stakes lottery for Federal education funding. That cash is essential as the Legislature has cut funding to education in Florida, including the University of Florida. It has gotten to the point that UF asks their alumni to lobby their legislators (who hate doing real work in an election year) in addition to paying for their usual lobbyists.
But, wait, what does politics have to do with college sports? Everything.
Staples' argument that the CASH system would make enough cash for universities to no longer use tax dollars for sports (I'm looking at you Doak Campbell Stadium) is a good one. We make fun of FSU for putting classrooms in Doak to pay for luxury suites, but a lot of schools have done similar things. Florida's University Athletic Association is unique in that it is self-sufficient. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is a state building, but renovations and luxury boxes have been bought and paid for by the UAA. The UAA also has given $53 million to UF's academics since 1990 and $6 million in UF's last budget.
That money is now necessary for Florida's survival as UF faces a similar battle as other public institutions across the country; state legislatures cutting funding as education costs rise. It is so bad in California, home of six of the top-15 US News and World Report Public Universities, that there have been wide scale protests. California has an epic budget hole, but every state is trying to cut back after spending like junkies in the last decade. It cuts across the aisle too, as Republicans have found their conservative roots again and President Obama considers freezing some spending.
As funding drops, college sports income is going through the roof. The SEC on CBS/ESPN package and Big Ten Network are cash cows. The elites of the Pac-10 are even considering adding two teams to play a conference championship game. All of this is happening as the NCAA considers breaking their $6 billion contract with CBS for March Madness for an even bigger contract.
Staples' system makes sense because the four super leagues do not have to share with 120 football teams or 340 basketball teams. CASH also creates marquee matchups every weekend. Instead of out-of-conference Charleston Southern opening Florida's season, UF goes out-of-conference against Clemson. The O'Dome would see sellout crowds again with conference rivals Oklahoma and West Virginia. The 64 schools would have to build facilities just to hold the cash they take in.
At Florida, this means the UAA giving more to academics, which also encourages academic freedom as UF can do whatever they want with the sports cash. At schools where there is no barrier between academics and athletics, sports cash means a new research hospital, 100 new professors, or more scholarships. It should also mean public funds that universities should have gotten can be funneled into elementary, middle and high schools.
Staples does not address this, choosing to look more at the possibility that CASH creates Triple-A basketball and football programs. He also wonders if the university presidents would give up on amateurism and enter a system that prints money. I think they would, once they understand how much money the schools could make. The more money schools make, the more money school presidents make. Universities will still rely on some public funding, but their fortunes won't rise and fall with the housing market or political trends.