Big Ten TV money keeps flowing in, but Ohio State athletes left high and dry | Rob Oller

Rob Oller
The Columbus Dispatch

Money keeps flowing into college football, with multiple media outlets reporting the Big Ten is close to signing TV deals worth at least $1 billion. 

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud

CBS and NBC are the “clear front-runners” to join Fox in securing the Big Ten’s TV rights, according to the Sports Business Journal, with the New York Post reporting CBS is negotiating to pay about $350 million per year for the 3:30 p.m. time slot. Fox would get noon games and NBC the prime-time contests. ESPN reportedly is out of the running.

That’s a huge payday, so gigantic that surely the Big Ten can share some of its TV money with athletes who make it possible.

Ah, but there’s the rub. How to decide who gets what? How much is America’s obsession with college football based on the players and how much on the program? 

Some Ohio State fans absolutely tune in specifically to watch quarterback C.J. Stroud, but the vast majority watch because it is “their” Buckeyes. The name on the back of the jersey matters less than the Block O on the front. Certainly, Stroud and his receivers add to the overall interest — as does the defense, though lately more in a car wreck rubber-necking kind of way — but as long as OSU keeps winning, the TV ratings will remain solid no matter who takes the field. 

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It’s always been that way and always will be. Archie Griffin is a legend, but in the grand scheme of fan interest it is Ohio State first, two-time Heisman trophy winner (or any player) second. 

Deciding how to distribute TV money depends on how vital the bodies inside the uniforms are to the financial windfall. Some say the athletes rule supreme, so they deserve the largest chunk of the take.

“This NIL stuff doesn’t come close to (being) far enough,” Big League Advantage CEO Michael Schwimer told CBS sports. “What other aspects of life do you have where the people that are 95% responsible for the revenue creation are getting zero profits?”

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud

College football players deserve a bigger piece of the financial pie, but 95%? I don’t see it. Go ahead and make as much as you can from NIL, which was created to help monetize individual star power, but TV money is a different animal.

“The brand value on the college side increases for the individual athlete off the field, but while on the field the brand lies with the university and conference, because they are the rights holders,” said Joe Favorito, a sports marketing consultant and professor at Columbia University. 

“The core following in college football are going to that stadium, to the Horseshoe on Saturdays, more for the institution and college."

The NFL is different, because players can stay with the same team longer than four or five years, which raises the return on investment.

“You don’t see (TV networks) saying, ‘We’ll do this deal only if quarterback X stays at Michigan,' ” Favorito said.

Viewership is tied to program loyalty, the old alma mater, more than to individual star power. In that way, the transfer portal actually weakens athletes’ bargaining power as it relates to TV money. In college free agency, players constantly come and go with little restriction.

Favorito hesitated to put a percentage on how much Big Ten TV money should go to players. Maybe 40% Maybe 25%? Maybe 10%?

“It’s still all very amorphous. The reality is we just don’t know,” he said. “You’re talking a 50-50 split with who? With 76 scholarship athletes or three? At the end of the day, you may talk to a college coach who thinks the left tackle is the most important player on the team.” 

Favorito actually thinks the most important person on the team might be the coach.

“Because they’re the constant,” he said.

Except increasingly they are not. The average tenure of an FBS coach is 3.7 seasons. USA TODAY Sports' annual review of coaches' compensation found that the average total pay for FBS head coaches in 2020-21 was $2.7 million. Considering TV money played a part in padding those salaries, it seems proper that athletes profit, too. 

Some quick math: Take 10% of a $1 billion Big Ten TV deal and divide it by 16 Big Ten schools, then divide by 85 scholarship players and it comes to about $74,000 per player, or $62,500 if being generous to include 15 non-scholarship walk-ons. That does not feel exorbitant. To quell fears, add language that players must remain a minimum of two seasons at the school before collecting.

Details aside, the bottom line is college players deserve to collect from TV deals. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it should be something. 

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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