Alright, so now that I’ve begrudgingly reached the acceptance phase of the conference realignment grieving process, there’s something I want to address that’s become a running theme throughout this year’s realignment hysteria that’s started to bug me.
Throughout this whole process, the most talked about aspect of realignment has been money. How schools in the ACC are going to get $20 million per year, schools in the Big Ten and SEC even more, and schools in The American something like $2 million per year, less than even lowly DePaul will be getting from the new Big East (which is actually almost as hilarious as it is infuriating.)
Now, that fact obviously annoys me, what bugs me even more is the notion that because those big conference schools are going to be raking in more money annually than UConn, we’re ultimately going to become non-competitive in the long run as those schools gradually get richer and richer and eventually crush UConn under the weight of their colossal mountain of cash.
And when I say big conference schools, naturally I’m including Boston College, Washington State, Colorado and Northwestern, just to name a few of the schools who have been cleaning house, taking names and dominating the standings in just about every sport these past few years thanks to their giant TV revenue deals.
Give me a break.
As great as it would be for UConn to get to sit on top of a giant pile of Benjamins every year, the truth is having gobs of cash doesn’t necessarily translate into athletic success. As difficult as it was to hear it at the time, Warde Manuel was absolutely right when he pointed out back in April that UConn has always been at a financial disadvantage to other schools, especially in the 90s when basketball was first breaking out.
“You know what? There are a lot of teams making more money than us that never won anything,” Manuel told the Hartford Courant. “Quote me on that.”
It’s true, just look at all the big conference schools that basically serve as cannon fodder for the power schools of their conference, especially in football. You have the schools I already mentioned, Minnesota, Iowa State, Vanderbilt, and a whole list of others that aren’t exactly getting a great return on their investment.
To use Boston College as an example again: They’ve seen their TV revenue increase from roughly $3 million to $12 million and now up to around $20 million over the course of their time in the ACC, and yet their football program has fallen off a cliff ever since Matt Ryan was drafted in 2008. And that’s before you take into account their train wreck of a basketball program. Outside of hockey, the ACC’s TV revenue hasn’t exactly turned BC into a powerhouse.
So if money isn’t the secret to success, what is? Well, college sports aren’t really that much different than their pro counterparts, or any other business for that matter. While having money helps, the most successful organizations aren’t the ones with the most money, but the ones that spend it the most effectively.
How do you do that? By hiring the right athletic directors, coaches and support staff who can bring in and cultivate talented players, raise money to build new facilities and drum up support to help build a fanbase. You don’t need to be the wealthiest school around to do any of that, and just because you can pay a guy the most money doesn’t guarantee he won’t turn out to be a disastrous hire either.
In terms of building a program on a budget, UConn has been very successful on this over the past 20 years. Back in the 80s, UConn was a podunk farm school with no tradition, no facilities and no money. Then they hired Jim Calhoun and Geno Auriemma, and together they wound up turning UConn into one of the premier destinations for basketball recruits across the country.
The team won, the money started to come in, and eventually the program established a tradition, and the beautiful thing about tradition is it can’t be bought, but it sure as hell can be sold, and now Auriemma and Kevin Ollie can both sell the school’s tradition to new recruits, along with the prospect of a pro career and the state of the art practice facility rising across the street from Gampel Pavilion.
There have been plenty of missteps along the way, the Jeff Hathaway and Paul Pasqualoni hirings in particular, but Louisville managed to survive three years of Steve Kragthorpe, so I don’t see why UConn can’t rebound from three years of Pasqualoni as well.
And that’s the thing, while the football program doesn’t have that winning tradition yet, or the right coach, it does have the facilities, which is usually the part having a lot of TV revenue helps with the most. Now if UConn can find the right coach, there’s no reason UConn couldn’t grow into a respectable program in its own right. Hell, if Boise State could do it, then anybody can with the right vision.
Even if the football program never makes “the jump,” UConn will still have the advantage of having built its brand on basketball first, and an elite basketball program is much less expensive to run than an elite football program. So even if The American winds up being UConn’s home for the future (gag), anyone who honestly thinks the Huskies are going to fall behind even the dregs of the big conferences needs to take a step back and a big deep breath.
We’re going to be ok.
Well… Unless of course the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit and others like it eventually cripple the NCAA and force schools to start paying players. Then the new reality where Kentucky is paying its whole men’s roster $7 million per year and Alabama’s football payroll is higher than the Detroit Lions’ could be a tougher one to overcome without a big TV contract.
But then again, those kids are probably getting paid that much under the table already anyway, so on second thought maybe not.