Many people think that all football players are knuckle-dragging dimwits. That may have been the case back in the leather helmet days, but it hasn’t been true for a long while — and it’s particularly not true these days, with the complicated offensive and defensive schemes found in college and professional football alike.
If you don’t believe me, watch the Big Ten Network segment above, in which former coach and BTN commentator Gerry DiNardo sits down with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins to break down a few plays from this year’s Ohio State-Michigan game. You can’t help but be impressed by how Haskins analyzes defensive coverage, sets offensive blocking schemes, and evaluates his various “reads” — and then explains it all in a coherent, step-by-step fashion using the special vocabulary of football.
Ohio State used to be called Football U. That’s never been true, not really, but even if it were it’s clear that Football U. does in fact involve a lot of teaching, and a lot of learning.
And the projected revenue number (drum roll, please) is: $51.1 million. That $51.1 million in expected revenue distribution will go not only to the despised Maize and Blue, but also to the good guys in Scarlet and Gray and all of the other schools in the 14-member Big Ten Conference. Do the math, and you will quickly determine that the Big Ten will be dishing out more than $700 million to the schools that are lucky enough to be part of the Old Conference in 2018. Say, do you think the school administrators and athletic directors at Rutgers and Maryland are happy about their decision to join the Big Ten back in 2014?
The story linked above says the big driver of the Big Ten’s enormous projected 2018 distribution is TV revenue. The Big Ten’s TV deal is expected to produce $2.6 billion in revenue over six years, generating lots of money to dole out to Big Ten members. The Conference has been pretty far-sighted in maximizing its TV revenue, having created its own network before other conferences did and driving a hard bargain in its negotiations with networks. The Big Ten has two aces in the hole that give it incredible leverage: huge schools with lots of graduates and supporters who are spread out around the country, are passionate about sports (primarily football), and want to watch their team play every weekend during the fall, and a conference that now stretches from Nebraska all the way east to New Jersey and Maryland, covering many of the biggest media markets in the country.
The $51.1 million in projected Big Ten revenue for 2018 is just each member school’s share of the Big Ten’s common revenue. The powerhouse schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State also generate lots of cash from their individual merchandising, licensing and “partnering” deals. Those schools know that their fans want to wear their school’s gear and put up school merchandise in their dens and family rooms and “man caves,” and they’ve got prized brands that also contribute lots of dough to the bottom line. We’ve reached the point where educational institutions have developed, and now own, some of the most valuable brands, logos, and mascots in U.S. commerce.
In the largely midwestern footprint of the Big Ten, football is a cash cow that produces lots of moola. The Big Ten Conference and its member schools are milking that cow for all it’s worth.
Today I was invited to Ohio State’s homecoming game. What traditional Big Ten team is the opponent this year? That’s right — Rutgers. Wait, what?
Oh, yeah. Ugh. This is the year the Big Ten adds the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Maryland Terrapins to the conference. I don’t know whether Ohio State will be any good this year — I’ll write something about that later this week — but I know that Rutgers and Maryland aren’t likely to increase the Buckeyes’ strength of schedule any. Last year the Scarlet Knights were 6-7 in whatever conference they were in (was it the Big East?) and the Terrapins were a hardy 7-6 in the ACC. Will they be any better this year? Heck if I know, but I do know that a homecoming game against Rutgers doesn’t exactly get the blood pumping.
I get what the Big Ten is doing. College sports these days is all about money, and money flows from TV revenue. The Big Ten wants the Big Ten Network to be carried on the cable packages in the big media markets on the East Coast, and it also hopes to increase sales of jerseys, hats, and other paraphernalia. Does that mean lots of New Yorkers and inside-the-Beltway types will decide to watch Big Ten football this year and wear Big Ten gear? I doubt it — unless they’re alums and were going to be watching the games, anyway. I’m not sure that New Yorkers pay any attention whatsoever to college football, and the main sport in D.C. is politics. But there’s probably enough Big Ten alums in the two markets to make cable companies include the Big Ten Network, and that’s what matters.
I think adding Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten is lame, and when I see the devious looking Maryland Terrapin sporting the Big Ten logo, as in the illustration accompanying this post, I cringe. They may make a lot of money through this expansion, but they’ve really undercut the tradition in a conference that had a tradition second to none. No amount of money is worth that.
If you like high-flying dunks — and what red-blooded American doesn’t? — Sam Thompson of Ohio State is your man. This guy is just an amazing athlete, who is capable of jumping and soaring and doing things with his body that normal folks wouldn’t even dream of doing.
Some people have real athletic ability; most of us don’t. Those of us who have trouble achieving a vertical leap of six inches can only watch studs like Sam Thompson, and wonder what it must be like to soar and slip the surly bonds of Earth.
The NCAA Tournament is great not only because you get to see some great basketball, buzzer beaters, and heartbreak, but also because you get to see some great TV announcers ply their trade.
Some people like Dick Vitale, some people like Bill Raftery, some people like Jay Bilas — but for my money no announcer is so perfectly matched to a sport as Gus Johnson is to college basketball. He is knowledgeable, and professional, but what really makes him great is that he gets as pumped about the great games, the great plays, and the great finishes as everyday fans do. Listening to Gus Johnson call a game, his voice rising as the adrenalin surges, always makes that game more exciting and memorable.
Ohio State fans have been privileged to have Gus Johnson call a number of Buckeye games, and this year he has worked games for the Big Ten Network, so I’ve had the great pleasure of hearing him even more than normal. As a Buckeye fan, one of my favorite Gus Johnson calls is of Ron Lewis’ legendary last-second shot to propel the Buckeyes and Xavier into overtime in a 2007 NCAA Tournament game. To this day, members of Buckeye Nation debate exactly what Gus Johnson said as Lewis’ shot found the bottom of the net. Was it “bangs it home”? Was it “pizza dough”? We only know that we like it.
Kish and I have become hooked on The Journey. The Journey is a weekly, half-hour Big Ten Network TV show that runs during the basketball season. It doesn’t have a host, or talking heads, or show clips of game highlights. Instead, it covers behind-the-scenes stories of Big Ten basketball players, coaches, athletic directors and fans. It is another example of the truism that there is nothing so fascinating as individual human beings and their personal stories.
Typically, The Journey will follow three or four storylines each episode, with the different subjects woven together into a kind of tapestry. The show is granted exceptional, behind-the-scenes access to the players and coaches, to the workout rooms, the long bus rides, the timeout huddles when the game is in the balance, and the locker room jubilation and disappointment. Viewers of The Journey have learned about what a fine person Michigan’s Darius Morris must be, as he has dealt with the death of a close friend from a debilitating disease. We’ve seen the commitment of the Illinois student section, the Orange Crush, as they perform charitable work and then travel for hours to cheer their team during a key away game. We’ve heard Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe talk about overcoming his past mistakes, seen Northwestern’s Mighty Mite Iron Man, Juice Thompson, conditioning himself to play every minute of every game, and listened to Ohio State’s Dallas Lauderdale talk about his mother and the limitations imposed by her illness. The stories are well presented and told by the subjects themselves and the production values are excellent. The end product is riveting television.
The Journey reminds you that these athletic gods that we alternately revere and criticize are just young men who are specially gifted in some respects but who are dealing with normal, everyday issues in many other ways. You can’t help but admire the athletes who are featured. And that, really, is the problem with the show. What is an Ohio State fan like me supposed to do when I learn that Darius Morris of Michigan — Michigan, for heaven’s sake! — seems to be a really good kid?
As we suffer through the painful heat of a blistering July, thoughts naturally turn to . . . Ohio State football. The Buckeyes’ fall football camp starts in a month or so, and the first game is September 2, against Marshall. It’s been a tough, seemingly endless period of withdrawal from college football since the Rose Bowl triumph.
I’m just about ready to:
* Start figuring out appropriate scarlet and gray ensembles that still fit my expanding girth
* Begin watching the Big Ten Network again
* Feel that growing tingle of happy anticipation as I tailgate in the parking lot at French Field House with a bunch of fired-up Buckeye fans
* Snarf down a lukewarm hot dog as I head up the stairs to a seat in the closed end of the Stadium
* Hear the drums begin to beat in the tunnel, signaling the start of TBDBITL’s ramp entrance
* Join 105,000+ of my close friends in singing Carmen Ohio after another home Buckeye victory
The new college football season can’t get here soon enough! Go Bucks!