Milking Moola From The Midwest Cash Cow

Recently the University of Michigan announced its operating budget for 2018.  Normally a red-blooded Buckeye wouldn’t pay attention to anything having to do with That School Up North, but in this case we’ll make an exception, because the operating budget included information about how much money TSUN expects to receive from the Big Ten as its conference revenue distribution next year.

1-4-7f9-49-a001329And 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.

Why Not Take The College Football Attendance Crown?

There’s a chance that, this year, Ohio State might take the college football attendance crown from the University of Michigan.

Well, why not?

IMG_1825Michigan is in disarray.  In fact, that’s putting it mildly.  So far this year, the Buckeyes are averaging more fans than the Wolverines, and Michigan’s recent struggles — in pretty much every facet of college football, from player safety to basic concepts of Public Relations 101 — are causing its fan base to wonder why in the hell they are paying to watch a train wreck.

As an Ohio State fan, I want to beat Michigan in every possible way — but as a person, I want to see the Wolverines take a licking because they are just doing things the wrong way.  The University of Michigan is a great institution, but it is one that has lost its way.  If it is risking player safety, through sheer ineptitude or for some other reason, it needs to reassess its priorities and and return to what it once was.  If its hated rival — namely, the Buckeyes — seize the college football attendance crown while Michigan dithers about canning an athletic director and a head football coach who are incompetent boobs, maybe that will help to convince the U of M Administration that it has lost its way.  That would be a good thing for Michigan, for the Big Ten, and for the world of college football in general.

If embarrassing the University of Michigan in yet another contest produces some good, it’s the least we can do.

Welcome, Coach Hoke

The Michigan Wolverines have hired Brady Hoke as the new head football coach.  Hoke, who looks somewhat like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is a former Michigan assistant who was the head coach of San Diego State and formerly the head coach at Ball State.

Hoke’s hiring brings Michigan’s coaching search to an end.  I imagine that end cannot come soon enough for Michigan fans.  Former coach Rich Rodriguez was fired after a humiliating New Year’s Day loss without a designated successor ready to step in and take over.  The firing left Michigan without a head coach during some of the crucial days of the recruiting period.  It also kicked off a search process in which Michigan at times seemed like the awkward kid at the sock hop whose invitations to dance are embarrassingly, publicly spurned by everyone in attendance.  Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL and Les Miles decided to stay at LSU before Hoke accepted Michigan’s offer.

None of that means anything now, of course.  Hoke will have a chance to put his stamp on the program, and the best way for him to do that would be to guide his Wolverines to victories over Michigan’s big rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State.  And any Ohio State fan who believes that that result is wildly improbable would do well to remember an infamous article that appeared in The Michigan Daily on January 22, 2001.  The Daily sports columnist chuckled in wonderment at the very notion that a newly hired, “Division I rookie” coach could possibly expect to prevail against the mighty Wolverines and their star-studded roster in a game at the Big House the next season.  In the annals of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, that article is like the 1948 Chicago Tribune “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline — because the “Division I rookie” coach was Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes did in fact beat the heavily favored Wolverines in the game at Ann Arbor in November 2001, and Coach Tressel has gone on to lead Ohio State to victory in 9 of the 10 years he has coached the Buckeyes in The Game.

So, I welcome Coach Hoke back to the greatest rivalry in sports — and I hope that, despite his best efforts, he tastes bitter defeat when the 2011 version of The Game kicks off in 10 months.

The Game, 2010 Edition

Tomorrow is The Game.  I’ll be there, sitting in the Horseshoe in Section 12A.  The game will have the traditional noon start and the weather will be crisp and cold, with highs in the 30s and lows in the 20s.

Other than the start time and the weather, I don’t think there is much that is predictable about this edition of The Game.  Michigan has a great offensive player in lightning quick QB Denard Robinson, who is rewriting the Michigan record books.  Robinson is easily the most explosive offensive player that Buckeyes will have faced so far this year.  With Robinson at the helm, the Wolverines have scored points in bunches.  Michigan’s offense will pose tremendous challenges for the Ohio State defense.  No team that has faced Michigan so far this year has shut down the offense, and I don’t expect the Buckeyes to do so, either.

On the other side of the ball, it is fair to say that the 2010 Michigan defense is not very good.  In fact, for those of us who grew up with the rivalry in the ’70s when Michigan always fielded a stout, hard-hitting defense, Michigan’s current defense is virtually unrecognizable.  The 2010 Wolverines have given up an average of more than 39 points per game in Big Ten play and have — statistically, at least — one of the worst defenses in college football.  In last week’s Michigan loss, Wisconsin ran the ball again, and again, and again, and Michigan simply could not stop them.  You have to think that Ohio State will be able to move the ball and put points on the board.

There is a lot to worry about in this game.  Teams that can score always have a shot at an upset; if Ohio State gets sloppy and puts the ball on the ground or wastes scoring opportunities, Michigan could get ahead and stay ahead.  Although Ohio State is a prohibitive favorite, this rivalry has seen lots of upsets over the years, and Michigan may be due.  The Wolverines have lost six in a row to the Buckeyes, and must be wondering whether a loss tomorrow would cost head coach Rich Rodriguez his job.  Let’s hope that this year isn’t the year the Wolverines break the streak.


Protecting Helpless Citizens From The Scourge Of Porch Couches

Breaking news:  the Ann Arbor, Michigan City Council has finally — finally! — acted to ban porch couches.

Thank God!  Resolute action on this crucial issue is long overdue.  For years, Americans in countless college towns have had to live with the threat of beer-soaked couches serving as the breeding grounds for new forms of bacteria and potential pestilence, of diligent students being overcome by noxious fumes emanating from the mildewed orange artificial fibers on exposed and threadbare sofa armrests, and of the traffic hazards posed by chunks of styrofoam pulled from the burst sides of cheap cushions rolling through the city like sagebrush tumbling through the dusty streets of Laredo.  Now we can only hope that local government officials in college towns will turn to other weighty matters, like cracking down on the appearance of troubling garden gnomes and the sale of cheap foreign-made Che Guevara t-shirts that shrink five sizes after just one washing.

Of course, you would expect that far-sighted public servants in a town like Ann Arbor would take the lead on the pressing topic of outdoor davenport regulation.  The only weird thing is that one of the big safety concerns with college porch couches is that excited students might set the furniture ablaze after a big home team sports win.  Why would Ann Arbor council members have any concerns on that score?

Spare The Rod, Spoil The Program

I’ve posted before on the potential NCAA violations committed by the Michigan football program, which initially were reported by the Detroit Free Press.  Some nine months later, Michigan has now completed its “internal investigation” and admitted to certain violations.  It concluded that there was a breakdown in communications and it fired one staffer and reprimanded seven other people involved in the football program, including Head Coach Rich Rodriguez.  It also put itself on two years of probation (although not of the double-secret variety). The school clearly hopes that its self-administered punishment will cause the NCAA to refrain from imposing other tougher sanctions that further sully Michigan’s reputation. 

It’s hard to believe it took nine months for Michigan to figure out that there was a breakdown in communications, but it doesn’t surprise me that Michigan didn’t ultimately hold Rich Rod accountable for the failings in his program.  Michigan took a big risk in hiring Rodriguez rather than a “Michigan man,” and so far it has been an embarrassment and a disaster for one of the most storied, respected programs in college football.  The team has been terrible, players have transferred and raised questions about Rodriguez, and scandals like the Free Press articles seem to be lurking around every corner.

Let’s hope Michigan has fixed those communications breakdowns and established appropriate supervision over its football program, because Rodriguez surely understands that if the Wolverines don’t win this season he is gone.  Coaches whose jobs are hanging by a thread often are more attentive to wins than compliance.

Wolverines In Decline

The BBC reports that studies have indicated that populations of wolverines in North America are declining.  Wolverines are the largest members of the weasel family, live in remote northern areas, and eat the remains of large animals and smaller animals, like rats, that the wolverines hunt themselves.

The scientists quoted in the article link the decline in the wolverine population to diminished snowpacks in the wolverines’ natural habitats, which they surmise would reduce the food supply for wolverines.  The scientists apparently didn’t address the possibility that the carrion-consuming, rat-eating wolverines are dying of embarrassment because they are the unfortunate mascots of the recently underachieving University of Michigan sports teams.

I Know Michigan Needs All The Practice It Can Get, But . . . .

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez

The Detroit Free Press has broken an interesting story in which unnamed current and former players claim the University of Michigan football team has violated NCAA rules regulating off-season workouts, in-season demands on players and mandatory summer activities. The allegations center on strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis and off-season conditioning requirements. Michigan has launched an investigation, and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez apparently reacted emotionally to questions about his treatment of his players at a press conference today.

I don’t know the truth of the allegations, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Rodriguez and his staff bent NCAA rules to the breaking point. Big-time college football is extremely competitive, and Michigan fans have high expectations and enormous pride in their program. Last year, Michigan had a nightmarish season in which the team lost 9 games and got absolutely crushed by the Ohio State University Buckeyes. It’s safe to say that another year like last year would considerably shorten Rodriguez’ career at U of M.

Lord knows that after last year Michigan needs all the practice it can get. What it really doesn’t need is NCAA sanctions imposed for rules violations following a year of such dismal failure. It will be up to the coach and athletic department to rebuild the Michigan program the right way. I seriously question whether Rodriguez is the right man for that job.