One of the controversies du jour in college football on Thursday was the furor over Ohio State president Gordon Gee's remarks to an Ohio State Athletic Council meeting in December, which included disparaging jokes about Catholics, and the academic reputations of Louisville, Kentucky, and the SEC. Now, via Sports Illustrated, the audio of that meeting, obtained through public records request, has been made public.
At about 24:45, Gee fields a question from someone in the meeting, who asks about the Big Ten continuing to use the Big Ten name despite having 14 teams, which includes the now-infamous "Tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write..." remark — and some other remarks worth noting.
"Well, you tell the SEC when they can learn to read and write then they can figure out what we’re doing. That's right, I’ve been down there. I've been down there."
"I was the chairman of the Southeastern Conference for two years. I tell you something, it is ... It’s shameful. It really is. It's shameful. Both the integrity, and — you talk to Coach Meyer, I mean, that's one of the reasons that he had to leave. I mean, he's a man of integrity, and he won two national championships, and in the meantime, people were just undermining him in every way, shape, or form. It's a ... it's shameful."
"We know how to count. And we, and the thing about it is, we know how to count the money, which we have a lot more of than the SEC. And we'll continue to have that."
It's interesting to hear Gee say in one breath that he was the chairman of the Southeastern Conference, then lament the "shameful" SEC, apparently because of "integrity." One might assume Gee, given that he was in a leadership role within the SEC, might have tried to change things he deemed "shameful," rather than bolting for a job with nearly the same salary and a massive warchest for expenses.
It's also interesting to hear Gee say, apparently after discussion with Meyer, that people were "undermining" Meyer "in every way, shape, or form." Certainly, Gee's comments, in context, seem to suggest that Meyer was undermined more by the SEC than by his Florida staff and superiors, but it's unclear whether the suggestion is that Meyer was able to win two national championships despite being undermined, or that his success was halted after he was undermined. I would appreciate Gee, purportedly a steward of academics and athletics, expounding on what he meant in these comments, rather than throwing out charges with little support.
Part of why Gee's comments about the SEC seem to me to be rather strong assertions based on scant or vaporous evidenc? His assertion that the Big Ten knows how to count money, has more than the SEC, and will continue to do so. The Big Ten is projected to distribute $25.7 million to each of its 12 member schools for the 2012-13 year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, while the SEC announced Friday it will distribute $289.4 million to its 14 member institutions for 2012-13, or $20.7 million per school. That likely makes both of the first two parts of Gee's assertion correct, though the SEC makes note of $14.1 million more "retained by the schools for participating in bowls," a significantly smaller figure than just the $17 million Florida was slated to receive as a payout for the 2013 Sugar Bowl, and leads me to believe the numbers announced may be a little fuzzy.
The growth of the Big Ten's revenue, and its revenue distribution, has been powered in recent years by the establishment and growth of the Big Ten Network, which will reportedly net between $6 million and $8 million per school for 2012-13. That extra revenue has helped it outstrip the rest of the country in revenue, and the SEC, in particular, has had no analogous outlet for its media rights, which will change in August 2014 with the launch of the ESPN-partnered SEC Network.
If the SEC Network can avoid the carriage issues that have plagued the Big Ten Network (available to "up to 73 million homes nationwide"), the Longhorn Network, and the Pac-12 Network, it's possible, and maybe probable, that the SEC will take a shorter road to profitablilty than the wildly successful Big Ten Network. It's also likely that the SEC's choice of ESPN as its broadcast partner — the Big Ten Network is jointly operated by the Big Ten and FOX Sports — will help with that, given ESPN's incredible success (college sports channel ESPNU is available in "approximately 75 million households") in getting its cable channels in the homes of customers.
While the Big Ten also enjoys a mountain of revenue at this point, its lead over the SEC and other member institutions is likely to be diminished in coming years by the entrance of Maryland and Rutgers as Big Ten members. A projected $25.7 million average windfall for 12 schools in 2012-13 would be a projected $22 million average windfall for 14 schools if revenues remained the same, and the Big Ten would need to add $51 million in revenue to match the $25.7 million figure for 14 schools.
Put plainly, the Big Ten's revenue lead on the rest of college athletics seems to be largely a product of the Big Ten Network's success, and the SEC is poised to replicate or better that success with the SEC Network.
Gee apologized for his comments in a Friday letter to the Ohio State community, writing:
I am deeply sorry for the discomfort I caused, which was wholly unintentional, to members of the Athletic Council and others present in the room at the time of my comments. More broadly, I want to apologize to all who were offended by my remarks, to the University community, and to our entire Ohio State family.
I wonder if the release of Gee's full remarks, which seem to add more questionable statements beyond previous reports — Gee said the addition of Maryland and Rutgers would give the Big Ten Network 40 to 50 million more viewers, and makes it "worth more money than God" — will necessitate additional clarification of his apology.