Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Arms Race Continues

Tony Barnhart points out this morning that Kentucky's showering of lucre on John Calipari is yet another instance of SEC schools using the revenue derived from lucrative television contracts to pull in top coaching talent.

Again, the SEC is the English Premier League of college football. It's playing in a different league than other conferences, which can lead to two results:

1. SEC teams will be better coached and therefore more successful than teams from other conferences; or

2. The competition in the SEC will become excessively fierce and the teams will kill one another.

There is a major difference between the SEC and the EPL that makes the second possibility more likely for the SEC. In England, the big four - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United - take the four qualification spots for the UEFA Champions League every year. Playing in the Champions League is extremely lucrative, especially for teams that progress late into the knock-out rounds as the English sides do routinely. Thus, they have a self-perpetuating revenue advantage over everyone else in the league. The Big Four can then turn that revenue advantage into better players.

The same is not true in the SEC. The 12 teams in the SEC share massive TV contracts, just like the 20 teams in the EPL do, and there is no added revenue source to separate a smaller elite from the rest of the conference. I suppose that success on the field can create revenue opportunities in the form of increased donations, higher prices for tickets and luxury boxes, merchandising, and the like, but that advantage for successful SEC teams isn't the same as the massive infusion of cash that the Big Four get from the Champions League. Thus, with less to separate Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and LSU (the current elite of the SEC) from the rest of the conference, a bloodbath is more likely.

One other thought: Barnhart points out the extreme pressure that coaches like Nick Saban and John Calipari face because of their rich contracts. Are SEC programs more likely than EPL teams to make rash coaching decisions after one bad year? My initial thought is that this is indeed the case. With the exception of Chelsea, the Big Four have had significant coaching stability in recent years. Even clubs in the next tier down like Everton and Aston Villa have had stability. These clubs are all run by smart, successful businessmen who have a certain degree of autonomy in making decisions. In contrast, SEC athletic directors have to answer to a collection of boosters who can often be described as having more money than sense. It's much easier to imagine Auburn making a rash decision because of Bobby Lowder than Manchester United making a rash decision because of Malcolm Glazer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To continue your thought on the automony of the club owners vs. the demands placed on the ADs: Part of it may also be that all the SEC schools (with the exception of Vandy) are located in small to medium sized towns where the performance of the football and/or basketball program is of an all-encompasing interest. Soccer fans of course also have such interest, but the owners are more insulated from the average fans. Because of their wealth, they do not have to interact with hoi polloi of their team's fandom. Whereas the AD, in contrast, living in the team's small town, and being relatively less wealthy can't get away from the constant talk and complaints of the fans.