The real SEC — which is believed to have once been less powerful and lower in stature than the government agency with the same acronym –opened its three-day media bazaar Wednesday at a nice hotel in Alabama. I’m guessing it’s because all of the nice hotels in the Caymans were booked.
The SEC isn’t a conference anymore. It’s an ATM with a practice facility. The conference recently signed two television contracts worth $3 billion. That apparently didn’t satisfy Georgia’s thirst for disposable income, because the school then negotiated its own marketing rights deal with ISP Sports for $92.8 million.
Why General Motors went to Washington for a bailout and not Athens is beyond me.
“Sometimes, it does make you stop and think a little, especially with this economy we’re in,” Georgia athletics director Damon Evans said Wednesday. “It says a lot that, with all of the struggles out there, we can still strike deals like this.”
And then the relative money quote: “A lot of institutions are struggling. We’re not struggling.”
The playing field is tilted. Fair or unfair, the SEC has a significant competitive advantage over everybody else.
Georgia Tech can upset Georgia on the football field, as it did in Athens last season. But it’s not an even fight between the comptrollers.
SEC schools have more money. That means they can build bigger and better facilities. They have bigger recruiting budgets, which means they can lure better players. They have more successful programs, which means they can sell more tickets and attract more sponsorships and tempt more football coaches who might otherwise seek their paycheck in the NFL.
This might shock you. But the NFL used to pay more than the SEC.
If your school is in another conference, this should worry you. Pro athletes have a general belief that any inflated contract is good for everybody in the “union” because it raises the bar and establishes a new comparable for negotiations. But I’m just not sure it works that way in college. The SEC isn’t a comparable. It’s like somebody in Iowa looking at a home built on the cliffs of Malibu and then telling his contractor, “I want that view in Des Moines.”
The ACC has two years left on its television contracts at about $37 million per year. The SEC’s new deals average out to $200 million annually. Realistically, how much does the ACC think it can close the gap? The economy stinks and ACC football teams generally have been out of the national title picture.
Georgia just paid $300,000 for expensive pool dividers called “bulkheads.” Relatively speaking, everybody else is running out to Home Depot for that blue and white rope.
An ACC spokesperson said Wednesday that commissioner John Swofford was at a retreat and couldn’t be reached for comment. (Tech athletics director Dan Radakovich declined to comment on Georgia or SEC finances.) But Swofford recently said he didn’t know how the SEC’s deals would impact his conference, telling the Orlando Sentinel: “Every circumstance is different. Timing is different. The marketplace can be different, depending on when you’re negotiating …”
Close to 1,000 media credentials have been issued for SEC media days. That’s up from 836 last year, despite declining newspaper budgets. (Even with more Internet and blog sites, every media outlet has a shrinking travel budget.) Compare this to the Sun Belt Conference, which held its media day recently via web conferencing in order to save $30,000 per school.
But the Sun Belt isn’t Damon Evans’ problem.
“We do have an advantage,” he said. “We can spend more, which creates more opportunity for success. I’ve heard of cutbacks related to positions and sports programs at other institutions. But you don’t hear those things coming out of the SEC.”
No. They’re just enjoying the view.