It was the Wu Tang Clan that, more than three decades ago, captured the current spirit of college athletics: Cash rules everything around me. C.R.E.A.M. Get the money.
Cash, television money and football. That’s what rules — not tradition, not geography, not the desires of fans and not the sanctity of the Olympic sports administrators say are important. Football and money are driving the train, which is why college athletics is mired in the hypocrisy that is conference realignment.
Let’s not hear any more about limits to NIL rights. Let’s not hear more about guardrails or regulations. Not when college presidents are unencumbered by any regulations when it comes to chasing dollars. Not when we have the threat of a breakup of a the Pac-12 because of money. Not when we have trustees and the president of Florida State saber-rattling about leaving their conference because they don’t make enough money.
Let’s not hear any more about college athletes, young enough to go to war for their country, not being old enough to participate in a free and open market. The same free market concept that college presidents and commissioners are using to chase more dollars.
Big Ten expected to approve Oregon, Washington as new members
We hear about the value of other sports, the importance of academics. And yet the Big Ten, as it now gets set to gobble up Oregon and Washington — its third and fourth Pac-12 schools — has not yet invited Stanford, the best in the nation at all sports. Nor is the Big Ten rushing to pick up Cal, an elite academic institution (as is Stanford). Perhaps the Big Ten eventually takes those two schools. But not making them a priority right away, slotting them fifth and sixth on its West Coast wish list, shows what the game is really about.
Realignment is threatening to end rivalries, minimize traditions and reward a smaller group of football powers while rendering others to obscurity. Sorry, Oregon State, Washington State and whoever else. Them’s the breaks. If the ACC breaks up down the line, sorry to anyone left out, but you’re part of a larger marketplace, and if you’re left without a seat at the big table when the music stops, then that’s tough. This is a marketplace. A free and open marketplace for schools and conferences, who are acting in their own best interests.
And nobody is in charge. We saw that most starkly in the 2020 play-or-don’t-play mess, and it’s continued with realignment. It’s everybody for themselves. There is no commissioner of college sports doing what is right for college athletics as a whole. There is an NCAA, which has a president whose only job now, it appears, is to lobby Congress for a law that regulates NIL rights.
But not realignment.
They’d have more credibility on NIL regulation if their own actions showed consistency. Rushing for the money in realignment, choosing that over tradition and the travel needs of “student-athletes,” prioritizing football over all over sports, doesn’t show that consistency. Athletes being paid threatens the sanctity of college sports, but forming super leagues driven by television dollars doesn’t?
Yes, the current state of NIL rights, the mish-mash of state laws, is the Wild West. But so is realignment.
There is something special about college sports, different from the pros, and that should be protected. But if what was special about it was the players weren’t paid, then that was un-American and not worth protecting. Or at least everybody in the business shouldn’t have been paid. Once the coaches, administrators and schools could participate in a free and open market, so should have the athletes.
(And by the way you can safely assume many were already handsomely paid under the table. So pretending that NIL being used as a recruiting inducement is a new problem, or a problem at all, is hilarious.)
Here is what is legitimately special about college sports: Regionalism, and that any school can field a team if it likes, any school can use sports as the front door to its university, something to brag about, something to unify. There is still something quaint and endearing about it. Go to a field hockey, track or any other non-revenue event and you see authentic college sports. Even on the revenue side, go to a major college football or basketball game and you see what should be protected: The passion, the sense of pride and belonging to something bigger. That hasn’t been lost the last few years with players suddenly having NIL rights. College sports is still special and worth protecting.
But what’s driving realignment isn’t regionalism or a desire to spread the good of sports fairly around the country. It’s money. And college presidents and the NCAA cannot go to Congress now and with any credibility ask for limits on what athletes can get.
Money for me, not for thee?
Nope. As Wu Tang Clan put it: Get the money. Dollar dollar bill, y’all.
(Photo: Jeffrey Brown / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)