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Slive, Delany, and the Future of CFB

College football continues to change. On which side of the coming fault lines do you fall?

Not exactly George Patton
Not exactly George Patton

Men, all this stuff you hear about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of bullsh*t. Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big-league ball players and the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans. - Patton's Speech

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive strode to the podium, grinned like a Cheshire cat, and began his "brag bag", as he called it. He rattled off his conference's impressive list of accomplishments on the field, and in the classroom (10 first-team Academic All-Americans, plus the Campbell Trophy winner, by the way). But with those five minutes out of the way, Slive turned his remarks to his true purpose - molding college football into his vision.

As has been his wont, Slive leverages the SEC Media Days bully pulpit to outline pointed hints of his agenda, setting the assembled national media's discussion points for the coming weeks and months. In years past, Slive stumped for a playoff, stipends for players to cover the true cost of attending school, and reduction of the NCAA rulebook for recruiting. So far he's just one for three - although the other two are most certainly on the way.

But the individual trees within Slive's hypothetical forest shouldn't be the focus. From a broader perspective, Slive's vision for college football - which is quickly becoming our nation's second most popular sport - extends the boundaries beyond which some current Division 1A schools can afford, and others may be able to stomach. That fact, by the way, may be Slive's ultimate intent: fracture the 124 Division 1A football schools to form an exclusive subset which, effectively, becomes minor league football with remedial math on the side. Or, as some skeptics might say, exactly what his conference is now, but without all of the pretenses.

It's far from a new debate. As Rambler wrote in his historical series, this has been argued since the turn of the century - the last century, that is. Way back in the 1900's, the argument centered on whether athletic scholarships were appropriate (and how to prevent player deaths). The Ivy League - the original power sports conference - eventually bowed out. So did the University of Chicago, from (what became) the Big Ten.

Today, your average SEC school's athletic budget exceeds $88 million, while the average Mountain West school spends less than half of that. Slive, of course, wants to make and spend more. And that "more", by the way, should be spent on football and men's basketball (to which Slive actually alluded in his 20 minute speech).

How much more? According to a recent LSJ article, Alabama's football program, alone, generated $81.8 million in revenue in 2011-12, but put back $1 million less toward funding non-revenue sports than did Michigan State, whose football program generated just less than $50 million. That's not an exception to the rule. On average, SEC schools spent just shy of $164,000 per "student-athlete" in 2010, while Big Ten schools averaged $117,000, which was good for 3rd place among FBS conferences (and still significantly above the FBS-wide average of $92,000). In that same table on page 6 of the Delta Cost Project's report, you'll notice that the Big Ten finished first in median academic spending per student, at $19k. Last place? Hello, Sun Belt. Just above the Sun Belt, yet below the FBS average, was Commissioner Slive's crew, the SEC, at $13k.

All of those numbers, though, aren't to support some emotional appeal to amateurism or fair play. Oberlin or Gettysburg College can make that argument. As fans of big-time, power conference universities, we jumped the shark with Slive's predecessors back in the 1920's. As Big Ten fans, we're splitting moral or philosophical hairs to argue otherwise. Each member school - yes, including Dear Old State - has recruited and signed kids with barely a hint of academic reasoning for admittance, solely because they were big, strong, and/or fast. So, our argument can't be about, as Slive outrageously stated yesterday, without a hint of sarcasm, what is 'best for the student-athletes'. Flying from State College to Omaha, then driving to Lincoln on a Thursday night during exams isn't 'best for the student-athletes'. That's pretentious, bordering on offensive, irrespective of whether or not the school takes attendance and surrounds the athlete with enough support that 50% of orangutans could graduate with a 2.1 gpa (minus the writing/speaking requirements).

Instead, the debate - and I suspect it's already begun in rich mahogany conference rooms in Central Pennsylvania and throughout the Midwest - needs to be about where the Big Ten will draw the line. Do we hold hands with Slive, and double down on a future that projects as an NFL minor league, with paid athletes and tons of money? That's a position that's easily understood, and easily spelled: C.R.E.A.M. Or does the Big Ten try to carve out some morally defensible middle ground between Columbia University and Columbus, OH? That's been the modus operandi for the last 100 years. I'm simply conflicted by the ambiguity of the reasoning from time to time. I want to win, to stomp on Bama in Tuscaloosa like we did in 1986 - I'm an American, after all, loving winners and not tolerating losers. But that might require a whole new rule book, and significant alteration to the budget, won't it?

Jim Delany, it's your turn in a few days. What's your vision for the future of college football? We know where the boys down south stand.

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