UCLA, USC & $$$$

Occasionally (well, ok, it probably seems like every other week) I write about the need for big time college sports to pay its players what they deserve. 

I write about it alot because the evidence just keeps piling up behind the idea that the current system is deeply unfair. Last week brought two fresh examples. 

The Big Ten announced, out of the blue (as in UCLA blue) that it would now be the big sixteen. The league is adding USC and UCLA, poaching them from the withering PAC 12. But at least give that conference credit for truth in advertising. When it added two schools, the PAC 8 became the PAC 10 and when they added two more they became the PAC 12. It’s fair to assume that they’ll now go back to being the PAC 10. The Big Ten has remained the Big Ten even when it had 12, 14 and now 16 schools, proving that the west coast schools teach math better than we do. 

Wisconsin State Journal sports page editor Jim Polzin got it right when he wrote, “Why is this happening? This one is easy: Money.” Polzin goes on to point out that the most recent total payout to PAC 12 schools from their media contracts was $344 million compared to $680 million for Big Ten schools. So, the California schools look forward to bigger pay days in the Big Ten. 

But it works the other way as well. Now that the Big Ten reaches into the huge southern California media market you can expect that the conference can negotiate huge increases in their next round of media deals. That’s the reason that the Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland a few years ago – to reach into the east coast media market. The bottom line is that the conference’s bottom line will expand big time. 

UCLA and USC jumped to the Big Ten for the big pay day. The only losers are the athletes.

Which brings me to the second story from last week: Greg Gard’s big pay increase. The UW men’s basketball coach was making $2.65 million a year with a $1 million buyout should he be let go before his contract expired. Now, he’ll earn $3.55 million with a buyout as high as $12 million. And that annual salary will increase by $100,000 a year until it reaches just under $4 million. 

Maybe it’s a coincidence that those two stories broke in the same week, but the relationship is clear. The Big Ten’s going to pull in a lot more money and it’s going to go to coaches and probably administrators. None of it will go to the guys on the court and the field who are directly producing all that wealth for everybody else. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The athletic departments will no doubt blow some smoke about how they’ll improve facilities, tutoring, whatever for their “student-athletes”, but it’s all B.S. And, by the way, how does it benefit “student-athletes” to travel between Maryland and California?

This also undermines the idea that despite all this cash, schools just can’t afford to pay the players because few athletic programs actually make any money. When you’re paying your coaches millions of dollars, you’re making lots of money. It’s just a question of where you decide to spend it. Big time athletic conferences argue that paying players would upset their business model. I suppose it would in much the same way that the Thirteenth Amendment disrupted that business model. 

Look, I don’t begrudge Gard his big pay day. He’s earned it and he’s just going for all that the market will bear. Good for him. And I don’t have any problem with the Big Ten’s expansion. That’s just a good business decision. But that underscores my point. It’s a business decision because this is a business, and a very lucrative one at that. 

There has been some progress made. The ability of players to now make some money off their own name, image and likeness and the ability to transfer more or less seamlessly between schools are good things. Groups of boosters are getting together to exploit the NIL rules and pay players en masse to do virtually nothing. They’re essentially doing what the schools themselves should do – pay players to be players. 

The problem with this is that it’s up to the boosters to decide which athletes to pay. A more fair system would have the schools paying players a minimum salary and then allowing them to cut add-on deals with advertisers and boosters – just like their coaches do. We won’t have real economic justice until the schools themselves pay their players. 


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “UCLA, USC & $$$$

  1. The UW athletics like Pro sports owners always cry poverty, yet have more than enough money to pay really, really big money to their coaches (& pro players). They rake in $$$ from concessions, parking, name rights, etc….

    I find it funny Alex Larsky commercial about Fiserv fourm being built. He misses the corporate welfare part, where the government paid a good chuck of it. If you got the money to buy the team, you got money to build a stadium. Especially when you’re a hedge fund manager. Otherwise use the stadium you got or good luck elsewhere.


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