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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Don't be Naive: Conference Realignment is NOT about Greed

In real life, I'm a social scientist. I, like other social scientists, study human behavior and the factors that influence decision making. And I'm better at it than most. And if you think college football realignment is motivated by greed, you're just being silly and naive.

In short, too many people are making the leap that because a decision will generate more revenue for an institution, this decision is motivated by greed, the "excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions". (People make the same mistake when discussing the actions of "the government" or of "the state", as though it is a single-minded entity.) But institutions do not make decisions, people within institutions make decisions, so to understand the incentives at work, we must understand how these decision-making individuals benefit from conference realignment. How do the boards of regents, university presidents and, to a lesser degree, athletic directors benefit?

Before we visit this question, though, let me pose another question - if a football program generates more revenue, where does that revenue go? Who benefits? Some goes to pay for better coaches and some to pay for better facilities. Some money goes to pay for field hockey and water polo (coaches, facility maintenance, equipment, travel), especially as budget crises pull funds from these smaller sports. So the real beneficiaries are coaches, school bus drivers, the people that build indoor practice facilities, and the college athletes themselves. While these people may be whispering in the collective ears of the decision makers, they are kept well away from the controls, and coaches, outside of Norman, Oklahoma, generally try to distance themselves from realignment talk.

And then there are the college football fans. Many fans of particular programs are screaming for realignment, and some boosters, like the coaches and indoor practice facility builders, may occasionally have the ear of a university president, but they, again, are not the one's making the decisions. And even if they did have more influence, fans and boosters are not looking to make a buck from realignment. They want the resources and exposure to attract and train better athletes and better football teams.

And now we return to the real decision makers. What motivates R. Bowen Loftin and Kenneth Star? People in these positions are not looking to make an extra buck wherever they can - their reputation among a class of intellectuals is worth far more. And Loftin will not make more money and Star less money when A&M leaves for the SEC, at least not directly or immediately - or ever. But they are judged for their management of university resources, including the athletic departments. Finding funding for bull riding in a budget crisis is a feather in their cap. Finding the resources to hire the best coaches and build the best facilities to build a better college football program is a much bigger feather, or perhaps even the cap itself (so much so, that the other feathers are sometimes lost). The people that Loftin has to please are not interested in how much money the football program is generating for its own sake, but, like the fans, they appreciate a football program that brings positive attention to the university.

So while there are many people that want realignment, and want the extra revenue from realignment, they-fans, coaches, athletic directors, university presidents, boosters, everyone but the builders of indoor practice facilites-are ultimately motivated by building a better football program and, to a much lesser extent, a better volleyball program. They aren't greedy - money is only a means - but the best things in life aren't free. And I will never criticize anyone - athlete, coach, fan, booster, university administrator - for wanting their football to be a better football team.

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