Football And Finances Today

Every year when I look at the college football menu of games for a weekend, I often see what I call “Sacrificial Lamb Games”.  Those are the kind where a minor football school gets a million-dollar payday to travel to the stadium of a Top Ten school for a “football game”.  In reality, these are glorified scrimmages; and on one hand, I can understand the financial incentive for the people at Cupcake U to take the game.  On the other hand, I rarely see any benefit in terms of learning or personal growth for the “student-athletes” at Cupcake U who get their brains beat out for 60 minutes of football.

I mention this because a reader sent me a note on Tuesday with a link to an article from Tulsa World Sports Extra.  According to this report – dated 7 August 2018 – the AD at Tulsa University has taken a pay cut and so has the head football coach and the head basketball coach.  These pay cuts have nothing to do with unfulfilled goals on the field or on the court; these pay cuts are caused by the finances in the athletic department.  Derrick Gragg is the AD at Tulsa; here is what he told Tulsa World:

“Basically, the budget reductions to me are a microcosm of what’s going on, not just at TU but across the country at a lot of different places.  We’re like a lot of other athletic departments — we’ve been asked to tighten our belt.

“We approached it with a combination of things. We did have some budget reductions. We did have some head-coaching salary reductions. My salary has been reduced the past three years. That’s the way we’ve dealt with some of that. You don’t want to negatively impact the student-athletes in any way.”

[For the record, Tulsa eliminated its golf team several years ago, so that sort of negatively impacted some of the student-athletes at the time.]

All that aside, this situation explains to me why a school like Tulsa might be more than willing to take a game or two against opponents where Tulsa has no chance to be competitive – – so long as there is a million-dollar payday attached to that shellacking.  Here is a link to the report I read in case you want more of the details.  The university officials say this is not a crisis – but it certainly sounds as if all is not peaches and cream in the athletic department.

Speaking of minor football endeavors, you may not have noticed that the Alliance of American Football (AAF) has scheduled its kick-off date for 9 February 2019.  That is correct, the AAF will play its first game(s) 6 days after the Super Bowl in Atlanta.  Do not be confused; this is not the same enterprise as Vince McMahon’s planned resurrection of the XFL; this is a totally separate venture and this one is populated and managed by people with long backgrounds in the NFL.  Bill Polian and Charlie Ebersol – son of former NBC sports maven Dick Ebersol – were heavily involved in getting things moving.  The AAF is not out to take on the NFL head on; its “vision” is that football fans suffer a let-down after the Super Bowl is over and they want to let those fans “extend their interest in football” beyond the first Sunday of February and into the Spring.

It is probably wrong to consider the AAF in the same way we think if minor league baseball leagues.  There is no plan for AAF teams to be aligned with NFL teams or to share players.  Maybe the better model to consider for the AAF is the NBA’s D-League.  Even that comparison has it flaws because many D-League teams are affiliated with specific NBA teams.  The idea behind the AAF is twofold:

  1. Provide fans with quality football – not necessarily NFL quality football – at a time of the year when there is no other football for fans to consume.
  2. Provide players who are not quite at the caliber of NFL players and give them a chance to develop their skills such that they may become competitive NFL-level players.

The NFL itself has tried to do something similar in the past but the World League of American Football and NFL Europe never made it.  It will be a challenge for the AAF; early on into their season, they will run into March Madness.

Here are the locations of the teams that will kick off the AAF:

  • Atlanta
  • Birmingham
  • Memphis
  • Orlando
  • Phoenix
  • Salt Lake City
  • San Antonio
  • San Diego

The AAF is going to try to “tailor” the personnel on the teams to local interest.  Bill Polian said that if Trent Richardson wants to play football again, he would hope to have him play for Birmingham in the AAF.  Steve Spurrier has already been lured out of retirement as the coach of the Orlando franchise.  Michael Vick in an offensive coordinator in the AAF; not surprisingly, he is with the Atlanta franchise.

There will be rules modifications in the AAF.  They will have a 30-second play clock (Chip Kelly would be happy with that.) and there will be no kickoffs or onside kicks.  The intent is to put a football game into a 2.5-hour time slot; if they can do that, the AAF will be attractive to TV execs.

Can the AAF make it?  Well, none of the previous “Spring Football” ideas survived for long – unless you count the USFL’s anti-trust win over the NFL in court as “survival”.  The difference here is that the AAF is not taking the NFL on as a competitor which most of the previous “Spring Football” entities sought to do.  Another difference is that the AAF is managed and populated with lots of NFL people which was not the case with many of the previous “Spring Football” enterprises.  The AAF is not a shoo-in to succeed, but it is worth following its ramp-up to kickoff next February.  The next set of “big events” for the AAF will come when the NFL cuts its camp rosters from 90 players down to 53 players; those cut downs could make 1184 football players who are at or close to “NFL-caliber” available to the AAF.  I expect a flurry of signings.

Finally, here is a question posed by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding one of the NFL Exhibition Games:

“Antonio Callaway turned a short pass into a 54-yard TD in the Browns’ exhibition opener, just days after the rookie receiver was pulled over and cited for marijuana possession.

“Just one question: If the cops can catch him, why can’t the New York Giants?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………