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Athletic Directors Discuss the Economics of College Sports

Photo by Marc Bryan-Brown
Four athletic directors talked about how their programs are affected by the changing landscape in college sports, and football continued to dominate the conversation. All of the panelists were concerned about how the new BCS revenue-sharing format will affect their schools. Univ. of Nevada-Las Vegas AD Jim Livengood thinks that who gets what share of the BCS pie is still dependent on who ends up in what conferences. Old Dominion Univ. AD Wood Selig added that if the top 60 or 70 schools break off and form a new top tier, it would diminish the work of getting to the Football Bowl Subdivision for Old Dominion. “How long can we be chasing these guys?” he said. “If they go to another level, we really haven’t done much.” Brigham Young Univ. AD Tom Holmoe added, “It’s all relative, but you want to get to the best position possible to put your brand – and all of ours differ to some degree – but we all want to put our brand in the community, to our alums and hopefully across the country.”

The Economics of College Sports

Lynn Hickey, UT-San Antonio
Tom Holmoe, BYU
Jim Livengood, UNLV
Wood Selig, Old Dominion

 Making the jump to FBS

The effect of having a football team make the leap to the FBS has advantages not mentioned often on campus. The affiliation with Conference USA and its major metropolitan universities plays into Old Dominion’s academic ambition. “Our president’s goal is to get more out-of-state students,” said Selig. “It matches up perfectly with our effort to get wider branding, wider national visibility and expand our student population beyond the state of Virginia.”AD Lynne Hickey of Univ. of Texas-San Antonio said that the advantage for all sports programs in bringing recruits to the Alamodome compared to the previous recruiting landscape is monumental.

The pressure of making good hiring decisions with rising coaching salaries clearly affects the group. “If I want to make a decision to pay a coach X amount of dollars that might be above and beyond what we’ve traditionally done, it’s my responsibility to make sure that we have the revenue that’s going to back that up,” said Holmoe. Selig acknowledged that “if we lose (our popular football coach) and don’t make a really sincere, strong financial effort to keep him, we’re going to be following him out of town, without a job. There’s that fine line between not paying too much and trying to max out your resources to extend your coach.” Hickey added that as a start-up program, her school can’t focus on the arms race and must evaluate their hiring decisions against their peers.

College football playoff
All panelists thought that four teams was not enough for the new college playoff format. “I think that the natural number is closer to being eight,” said Livengood. Selig joked, “We’ve shown we always need more money in college athletics,” before adding, “If we can get more money and have a bigger playoff and people will step forward, it will then go from eight to 16.”

UNLV stadium situation
Livengood elaborated on the plan to build a 62,000-seat on-campus domed stadium for football at UNLV. “We’re trying to create much more of a residential campus than we have had in the past,” he said. He sees the stadium being used for multiple events, including bidding on a future Pac-12 football championship game. “I think that’s an automatic,” he said, “and at some point in time, I would hope the ability to host NCAA championships, as well.”

BYU and independence

The new four-team playoff makes bowl affiliation for BYU football much tougher, according to Holmoe. “It looks now like it’s going right back to what it was with conference affiliations and bowl games,” he said. “You look at Notre Dame, who is one of, if not the most powerful brand in college football, and they went and put themselves in a bowl affiliation with the ACC because of the changing times.” Holmoe made it clear that BYU uses Notre Dame as a blueprint as an independent.

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