College Athletic Conferences Motto: We’re Only In It For The Money

March 4, 1968, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention released their third studio album titled—We’re Only In It For The Money.

The album’s cover spoofed the Beatles’ album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Of course, the Beatles’ record company had some concerns, so the proposed Zappa cover was moved to the inside sleeve.

Zappa album cover(Wikipedia)

When I read on July 1 that UCLA and USC were leaving the PAC-12 to join the Big Ten conference, that Zappa album title was the first thought that popped in my mind. Try as they might, college athletic directors and presidents, can’t deny that money is the motivator for conference jumping.

Sport Illustrated’s Pat Forde sums up the current thinking: “added revenue drives every decision in modern college sports now, regardless of the damage done to things like tradition, geographic sense, the student-athlete experience and any semblance of collegiality.”(NPR)

Additionally, I find this quote from USC’s athletic director, Mike Bohn, troubling: “Ultimately, the Big Ten is the best home for USC and Trojan athletics as we move into the new world of collegiate sports. We are excited that our values align with the league’s member institutions. We also will benefit from the stability and strength of the conference; the athletic caliber of Big Ten institutions; the increased visibility, exposure, and resources the conference will bring our student-athletes and programs; and the ability to expand engagement with our passionate alumni nationwide.”(NPR)

Aside from “student-athletes,” Mr. Bohn makes no reference to the fact that somewhere in their college experience—student athletes are supposed to be enrolled in academic classes, attending those classes, and earning credits toward a degree. I guess academic advisors and tutors in the USC athletic departments can be terminated as the school moves into the Big Ten.

Growing up in Burlington, North Carolina, I was in the heart of the Atlantic Coast Conference(ACC). As a kid, I loved following the basketball and football teams in the ACC. I listened to games on the radio, watch games on television, and read newspaper accounts. Players played for four years, some made it to the professional ranks, and some actually earned their degrees.

Today, earning a degree doesn’t appear to be a motivator. Players, their families, and future agents are more concerned about Mr. Bohn’s “increased visibility and exposure” and a player’s NIL (name, image, and likeness) potential than a college degree.

The lure of this athletic money makes me wonder if college athletic directors and presidents could pass the NCAA’s concussion protocols? Clearly, something has jarred their brains. Whatever common sense they once possessed has been erased by money.

And for me, that is my struggle—where is the common sense in these decisions?

Apparently for USC and UCLA, years of loyalty and tradition to the PAC-12 don’t mean anything. Clearly, USC and UCLA have lost sight of how the PAC-12 promoted and supported these iconic brands.

The travel piece is comical. Obviously, cost of jet fuel and availability of qualified pilots had no bearing on this decision. Doesn’t matter if a team flies commercial or charter, one glitch in computer travel systems, lousy weather, or plane mechanical problems can instantly change a team’s travel.

Another piece not factored into this decision is the quiet elephant in the athletic department—morale.

Expansions have lots of initial energy and excitement. I’ll be interested to see how the increased work pace impacts the people wrestling behind the scenes with logistics and planning. Also, included in the morale factor are the families of the players, coaches, and athletic staffs.

If I were ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, and other athletic conference leaders, I’d be worried.

Word on the street is that the Ivy League is going to enter this fray. Their expansion list includes—Davidson, Duke, Furman, Hampton Institute, Howard University, North Carolina A&T, University of Richmond, Wake Forest, and William and Mary.

No name change for the conference, but their mantra would be—“We’re Not In It For The Money.”

Maybe someday, the impact of money on college athletics will lose its hold. Until college presidents reclaim their backbones, college athletics will continue to be “only in it for the money.”

This is disappointing.

Valuable life lessons about common sense, integrity, and loyalty are lost when we need them most.

Photo by Bill Pike

Author’s note: sources NPR, and Wikipedia for the album cover.

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