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NCAA forms working group to consider name, image and likeness payments to athletes

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In the state of American politics in the year of our Lord 2019, there is an ever-dwindling list of things Democrats and Republicans can agree on. One of those issues: hatred of the NCAA’s amateurism model.

Following separate bills authored by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) with aims on blowing up amateurism, the NCAA on Tuesday announced it has formed a working group to consider the state of its ban on name, image and likeness (NLI) payments to college athletes.

“This group will bring together diverse opinions from the membership — from presidents and commissioners to student-athletes — that will examine the NCAA’s position on name, image and likeness benefits and potentially propose rule modifications tethered to education,” said Val Ackerman, commissioner of the Big East and working group co-chair. “We believe the time is right for these discussions and look forward to a thorough assessment of the many complexities involved in this area.”

Added co-chair and Ohio State AD Gene Smith: “While the formation of this group is an important step to confirming what we believe as an association, the group’s work will not result in paying students as employees. That structure is contrary to the NCAA’s educational mission and will not be a part of this discussion.”

A close reading of Smith’s statement will reveal it is actually an admission. Those on the pro-NLI side of the aisle do not argue for college athletes to become W-2 employees of the athletics departments for which they play. Instead, NLI rights would allow all college athletes from Trevor Lawrence on down to get the best deal they can get on the open market, from Nike on down to Big Bob’s Tractor Supply.

By denying something no one’s arguing for, Smith confirms the working group will discuss the issue activists (and lawmakers) are arguing for.

Says the NCAA text:

As part of its efforts, the working group will study modifications of current rules, policies and practices. In particular, it will focus on solutions that tie any changes to education; maintain the clear demarcation between professional and college sports; and further align student-athletes with the general student body.

The Board of Governors charged the working group with writing a set of overarching principles to guide each division as it devises consistent legislation. A final report is due to the Board of Governors in October, with an update provided in August.

Yes, amateurism and all the trappings therein remains a core belief of the NCAA. But this is the same organization that forbid NCAA-sanctioned championship events from being held in states that permitted sports gambling… until the Supreme Court lifted the prohibition on nationalized sports gambling. Less than a year from that decision, the NCAA has granted itself permission to stage a championship event across the street from a casino.

Federal law saw one of the NCAA’s core beliefs wilt in the name of practical survival. Could more pressure from Washington lead to another major change?

Jim Delany was highest paid conference commissioner in 2017-18; NCAA president Mark Emmert’s salary climbs to nearly $4 million

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The life of a conference commissioner is not an easy one given the amount of criticism from just about every level but at least they are well compensated for their troubles.

Really well in most cases.

Thanks to the latest round of 2017-18 tax returns from the various Power Five conferences and the NCAA being released, we now have a good picture at how everybody stacks up and business booming has resulted in even larger paychecks for most. Here’s the latest figures for the Power Five and NCAA President Mark Emmert:

  • The Big Ten’s Jim Delany moved into the top spot as the highest paid commissioner thanks to a reported $5.5 million paycheck, per USA Today.
  • Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was not far behind his Rose Bowl counterpart with over $5.2 million in compensation, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
  • Big 12 head honcho Bob Bowlsby was bumped to a total of $4.1 million.
  • ACC commissioner John Swofford took home slightly over $3.5 million.
  • SEC leader Greg Sankey was by far the best bargain of the group, with the most recently appointed commissioner making right around $2 million last year.
  • Emmert’s salary was the biggest mover of the group of power players as Yahoo! Sports notes his take-home pay jumped 60% by going from $2.4 million the previous year to $3.9 million. All told, the NCAA’s public face has seen his salary jump by some $2 million since 2015 alone.

As you all know, the compensation for the student-athletes officially remained at $0 in pay for the same time period.

Alcohol sales expected to be hot topic at SEC spring meetings

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It just means more… beer?

It certainly could in the SEC as early as this upcoming season depending on how the league’s annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla. go next week. As Sports Illustrated reports ahead of everybody’s trip down by the beach, repealing an archaic conference rule banning alcohol sales in the general public sections of stadiums is expected to be the hot button topic that will drive the conversation among school presidents, athletic directors and coaches:

Many of the conference’s high-ranking administrators are optimistic that league presidents will not only seriously discuss the alcohol ban but will overturn an archaic policy that exists in no other major conference. The bylaw will be “front and center” during the four-day event at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Resort, says one athletic director; another AD says it’s “the main thing.” The administrators spoke to Sports Illustrated on a condition of anonymity.

It probably goes without saying that SEC fans have been clamoring for overturning the rule and expanding sales beyond the club areas where adult beverages are currently allowed to be sold. The conference is one of the few holdouts in this area as college football has swung back from being relatively dry the past decade-plus. Half the Big Ten will permit sales in 2019 and other programs like Oklahoma became the latest big program elsewhere to join the trend earlier this month.

There’s two positives supporters of an SEC repeal will no doubt trot out next week, the first being the increased revenues schools can make by opening up sales and the other being the decrease in binge drinking just prior to kickoff. The latter in particular is not something likely to escape the conference presidents given some of the game day atmospheres in the league.

We’ll see if things ultimately get over the finish line in terms of a repeal after a few years of discussion but it probably speaks to the health of the league that throwing a few drinks back is the topic de jour down in Destin this year.

Thanks to resurgence under Kirby Smart, Georgia donors have contributed $140 million the past two years

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Kirby Smart is just plain good for business at Georgia as much as the head coach is for the Bulldogs on the field.

Like, really good for business.

The Athens Banner-Herald recapped a number of the financial figures for UGA athletics’ recently approved 2020 budget and while the overall $153.89 million figure was notable and the projected $44.5 million distribution from the SEC Network somewhat striking, it was one nugget buried in the story that was really eye-opening:

‘Fueled by the football team’s success the last couple of seasons under coach Kirby Smart, donors have contributed about $140 million total over the last two years.’

$140 million over two years!

“Sustainability in college athletics is an ongoing challenge and we are fortunate to be one of the few institutions being on solid ground,” AD Greg McGarity told the board.

We’ll say. That $140 million figure over two years is slightly more than what fellow SEC peers Kentucky and South Carolina brought in just last year in terms of total revenue, per USA Today’s finances database, and even if you split it in two is still a figure that greatly exceeds most Group of Five programs entire budget. And keep in mind this is just donations for the Bulldogs, not revenues from media deals, ticket sales and other items.

Given that UGA has made the national title game and the Sugar Bowl the past two seasons, it’s probably not a huge surprise to see a big uptick in donations but that quite the whopper of a figure thanks to the Smart-led resurgence in Athens.

Wyoming set to ask the state for funds to help with War Memorial Stadium renovation

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Add Wyoming to the long, long list of FBS schools hoping to complete a facelift for their home stadium over the next few years.

According to the Gillette News Record, the Cowboys are all set to ask the state for nearly $50 million in funds to help with the renovation of War Memorial Stadium and other athletics projects such as a pool.

“On the lower west side, the treads and the risers in the bleacher section and the press box are far below Mountain West Conference standards and we need to find a way to upgrade that,” athletic director Tom Burman told the paper. “We’re going to need, as part of our vision, to make fans feel better, whether it’s back-rests or chair-backs or better concessions. They have an expectation level of what Saturday football’s supposed to be like and it’s very different from what we provide.”

The total cost for the stadium and pool, which are not being separated in the request to the state for funds, is expected to cost $74.2 million. Some $24.6 million is expected to be fundraised by the school with the rest covered by the money provided by the legislature.

War Memorial Stadium seats just over 29,000 people for Cowboys home games but has really only seen minor renovations to upgrade the venue in 2004 and 2010. Given that the venue was built in 1950 and only expanded to near its current capacity in the 1970’s, it’s understandable why the school wants to upgrade the home football experience as a result.

Wyoming opens their 2019 season in Laramie against Missouri on August 31.