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July 12, 2009 - Athletic conference TV deals may exacerbate competitive disadvantages

A July 12 article published by the Orlando Sentinel reported on the impact of Southeastern Conference's (SEC) recent $3 billion conference television contract across the college sports landscape at a time when many colleges are reducing costs, including travel and staff in their athletic departments.

In the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Clemson University football caoch Dabo Swinney and his fellow coaches at Clemson recently were forced to go on a furlough. Florida State Univesrity will likely be forced to cut approximately 7 percent to 10 percent of its athletic department budget.  Swinney stated how the SEC television contract may effect his and other Atlantic Coast Conference football teams: "... money drives facilities and facilities can affect recruiting and things like that, and can affect expansion of stadiums and ticket sales. All those things."

According to the Sentinel, this fall each SEC institution will see an increase in television revenues from $5.3 million to $15 million annually. Other television contracts with college athletic conferences are:

  • The ACC's $560 million deal over 10 years when they expire at the end of 2011 sports season.
  • The Big East's $200 million deal over six years with ESPN
  • The Big Ten, which is in a 10-year, $1 billion agreement with ESPN and a 25-year, $2.8 billion deal with the Big Ten Network.

With increased athletic department budgets, SEC schools might be able to lure up-and-coming coaches from other conferences. The University of Tennessee is one SEC school that in recent months paid assistant football coaches large contracts: defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, father of new head coach Lane Kiffin, will earn $1.2 million per season, while defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron will receive $650,000.

The Sentinel analyzed data from the U.S. Department of Education which demonstrated that six of the nation's top 15 revenue-producing athletic departments were in the SEC schools, four were from the Big Ten and Big 12 conference, and the other was the University of Notre Dame.   No ACC school was represented in the top 15 and only Duke University was in the top 25. The University of Connecticut and West Virginia University were the only Big East schools in the top 40.

However, Britton Banowsky, the commissioner of Conference USA, and Nick Carperelli, the associate commissioner for football for the Big East Conference, argued that the SEC’s new TV deal is a good thing for college sports. "I would think that the conferences who are up next for renegotiation are excited about the possibility to get a bump themselves," said Carperelli. No ACC school was represented in the top 15 and only Duke was in the top 25.

The impact of the television contracts on college sports is likely to directly affect the scheduling of football and basketball games, potentially to the detriment of the athletes.  Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden, who has coached college football for mor than 50 years, said the SEC’s TV contract is the latest sign that the sport is beholden to the power of the networks. "You can see why when they tell you when to play, that’s when you play, don’t you?" Bowden asked.