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It’s Lobbying Time and Other League News

The big conferences are lobbying Congress about Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) law changes that swept the nation prior to the Coronavirus pandemic shut down the entire sporting landscape. USAToday’s Steve Berkowitz reported that the latest filing disclosures indicate the schools are asking for relief funds for virus-related issues, and general promotion of the “unique model of American college athletics”.

Whatever you think about lobbying — good or bad — it is a part of the game of politics and any organization would be silly — even negligent — to not have an investment in influencing the national legislature. If and when we start seeing some weirdly-crafted legislation we can bet some of this money-spreading has paid off.

For CUSA and leagues like it, it is important to note that these lobbyists are hired by the big leagues and not the smaller ones. While the NIL legislation will hurt the pocketbooks and perhaps the very existence of colleges everywhere, a modified reform that preserves the Ohio States of the world would not necessarily help little old Middle Tennessee, for example.

Indeed the entire league is comprised of programs that are not first-choice in the state budget, policy agenda, and consciousness. The league has reportedly looked at alternatives to playing a full schedule amid the challenges of dealing with this global pandemic. Commentary of dubious quality has ensued.

Any organization has a duty to mitigate risks. The criticism of the league amid disruptive changes over the last decade have focused on the poor television deals and the thrown-together quality of the league’s membership. One begets the the other and fans and critics of the league forget that the members that left for cash-colored pastures were leaving because they thought they could not make more money in this league.

That is to say that the members who left felt they could get bigger money elsewhere. Without those schools the league has failed to draw quality television deals because the member schools are not national draws. So the criticism of the league is summated as “These other 13 schools suck, we should move into a better conference. In the interim, the league should get a television deal on par with league that have schools that do not suck (in my estimation)”

That is, on its face, ridiculous. The league thought it had value in live sports in a market where the value of live entertainment is increasingly important. The truth was that there was a cap on that and the costs associated with a spread-out league are fairly large.

In my estimation the league’s seemingly self-serving decisions — holding league events in Dallas, staying close to Dallas, basketball bonus play, etc — are less self-serving than they are cost-conscious. Dallas is a major transportation hub, and has good facilities. If the league can save money by holding events closer to the home base, that means there is money enough to distribute to the member institutions. Trying out bonus/pod play was heralded in the Sun Belt and CUSA as forward-thinking. When it turned out that the selection committee was unmoved it only served to cement the creeping idea that the deck is stacked.

I do not know that anyone can reasonably call the latest league reactions to the virus as the leadership finally “getting a clue”. It looks to me like leadership playing the long-shot hand they were dealt.

This league’s twitter fans preferred complaining that they could not see their favorite team on ESPN to going out and subscribing to a channel tier that had their team on it. I get it. Times are tough and not everyone can afford to shell out big cash to watch the local state college. They do not put on a show for we poors, however. The simple fact is that this league’s members do not draw enough monied donors, fans, or subscribers to weather a crisis like this.

There are no lobbyists in DC pleading on behalf of CUSA for the same reason.

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