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Overreaction Monday: Is It Time For the Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten Conference to Push For Paying Players?

The Big Ten is making more money than any other conference. School across the country are paying players under the table. Is it time for the conference and the Iowa athletic department to push for legal payments to players?

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NCAA Basketball: Big 10 Media Day
Jim Delany has made some mistakes along the way, but he’s made the Big Ten conference and each of its members a lot of money. He hasn’t fared so bad himself.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

College athletics is big business. Well, more accurately, college football is big business. We’ve know this for quite a while, but this week we were reminded again of just how big that business is when the most recent revenue number for the Big Ten Conference were released. It was not a small number.

In fact, it was a record number, dwarfing those released by other conferences to date. But that’s not to say the Big Ten is the only conference making money, it’s just doing it better than any other. The Big 12, for instance, was on the verge of being disbanded entirely a few short years ago. Now, the conference brought in $374 million in 2018. That’s north of $37 million each for it’s ten members. That’s before each school gets to their third tier TV rights. For a school like Iowa State, that may not mean much, but for Texas with their Longhorn Network, it certainly does.

Other conferences, like the SEC, don’t distinguish between individual institutions when it comes to third tier rights - all money is split evenly. And for bigger conferences with better TV contracts, there’s more of it to be doled out. For 2018, the SEC had a whopping $660 million to distribute among its 14 members. That came to just short of $44 million for each member other than Ole Miss, which took home a smaller share thanks to a bowl ban.

That seems like a ridiculous amount until you get to the Big Ten, which hauled in a mind-boggling $759 million in 2018. That’s more than double what it made in 2014, and up roughly $246 million over 2017.

The conference, which has equal revenue sharing for all long-standing members with the newest members taking a smaller cut as a part of their agreement to enter the league (though new member Maryland actually received the highest payout of any league member in 2018 - in addition to their revenue payout of $26 million, they also received a loan from the conference for $31 million to make their total payout $57 million, but that loan will be repaid from future revenue share), paid out roughly $54 million to each of those long-standing members. And that’s just the payout from the conference.

Beyond those dollars, Big Ten teams raked in millions more from things like ticket sales, apparel sales, etc. Ohio State, the conference’s biggest earner, brought in roughly three times as much from other sources than they received from the conference, taking total revenue in 2017 (the most recent year available) north of $185 million. That’s a hell of a lot of money.

It’s not just the bluebloods that are raking it in, however. Our very own Iowa Hawkeyes brought in more than $130 million in the same year. That was good enough for 18th most in the country. In total, 31 programs hauled in more than $100 million in 2017, including 9 of the Big Ten’s programs. Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland (with their lower conference payouts) were just below with roughly $97, $97 and $95 million respectively. Purdue brought up the rear at roughly $85 million, and Northwestern’s figures aren’t publicly available as they’re a private institution. Suffice it to say nobody in the Big Ten is struggling to make ends meet.

With all those schools making all that money, the one group of people which seems to be left out is the athletes playing the games. The schools have seen that they pay top dollar for top coaches. Kirk Ferentz and Fran McCaffery are each making several million dollars a year at Iowa. Athletics Director Gary Barta has a base salary over half a million a year. Beyond Iowa, Big Ten commissioners Jim Delany hauled in more than either of Iowa’s coaches in base pay last year with a sweet $5.5 million payday in 2017.

Yet, the amateur athletes taking the stage to bring in all that money are being paid in scholarships, snacks and a limited supply of athletic wear. At least, that’s the way it appears on the surface.

Go deeper, as the FBI has been doing over the last couple years, and you see that a whole lot of those “amateur’ athletes are getting a whole lot more than what the NCAA allows. That ranges from things like meals and gifts from agents to hundreds of thousands of dollars, houses, cars and jobs for family members. None of those are allowed by the NCAA and many of them are illegal if they’re not reported and taxes paid accordingly. Hence the hot water a number of programs find themselves in at the moment.

When the story first broke over a year ago, there were roughly 20 programs named in the FBI probe and all of them were in the college basketball world. It included the likes of North Carolina State, Seton Hall, South Carolina, Louisville, Utah, Xavier, Wichita State, Clemson, Alabama, LSU, Maryland and Kentucky. From there, things got more interesting as wire taps came out with recordings from not only a few of those schools, but also Arizona and Kansas coaches.

Fast forward to this spring and it’s not just college basketball under the microscope. When a key government informant took the stand in the hoops trial, college football programs were brought into the light. Among the programs who reportedly had players paid include Alabama, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State and Pittsburgh. It’s likely that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

With the vast amounts of money at stake for these schools, it should come as no surprise that it wasn’t just small time programs and it wasn’t just college basketball looking to get the leg up. Where there is money to be made, there will be people willing to cut corners and operate on the fringes to make as much of it as possible.

To date, the University of Iowa has not been mentioned in any of the ongoing investigations. It’s not likely, but not impossible that they would be. If the Hawkeyes have been paying players, they haven’t been doing a very good job of it. It seems the biggest rules they’ve been breaking are likely of the copyright variety on social media.

In exchange for playing by the rules (OK, apparently not all the rules), Iowa fans get to take the moral high road, but what else do the Hawkeyes have to show for it? There are a slew of highly rated basketball recruits Fran has come just short of landing or backed away from suddenly with lots of smoke. There are very few highly rated skill position players knocking down the doors of the Iowa football facility despite the promise of playing time and a very good shot at the next level. And there are a lot of open spots on the trophy case for those championship trophies.

That’s not to say Iowa coaches should be skirting the rules in the pursuit of those championships, but might it not help them if the rules were different? In a world of haves and have nots, Iowa fans know about as well as anyone that we are not haves. Yet we find ourselves sitting inside the top 20 in revenue in a conference that’s overflowing with money and we seem to be one of the few programs not willing to hand it over to teenagers to attract them to our school.

What if some of that $130 million could be set aside for Iowa athletes upon graduation? What if they could receive a larger stipend for the work they’re doing to promote the Iowa brand? What if they could be paid for the use of their likeness in advertisements, apparel sales or even - gasp - the return of wildly popular video games?

Sure other programs would have to be able to do the same and perhaps they would have more to offer than Iowa. Sure there would still be any number of programs who would push the boundaries to find ways around any of the rules that might be implemented. But at the end of the day, Iowa is raking in huge amounts of money. More money than all but a handful of other schools in the country. In fact, just the $54 million Iowa received from the Big Ten conference in 2018 was more than 170 other (public school) programs made in 2017 from all revenue sources. There are only 213 total public school programs.

That is an immense advantage. It’s one we don’t typically think of as having here at Iowa. We’re not the little brother, but we certainly aren’t the deep-pocketed uncle. Except maybe we are. Maybe it’s time the powers that be in the Iowa athletic department, and at the Big Ten office for that matter, start looking to exploit those deep pockets instead of watching our spoiled cousins down south break the rules and reap the rewards.

Happy Monday ya’ll. Get out there and make some money this week. And if things don’t go according to script, just keep moving like they are. You’ll never lose if you always believe you’ve won.

Go Hawks