Moneyball

September 30, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Stanford is a three-touchdown favorite over UCLA tomorrow night.  Which is the more desirable team?

If you said Stanford, you’re probably one of those people who thinks that the Big Ten consists of ten schools.  You probably also thought that football was all about points on the board – six for a touchdown, three for a field goal, and so on.  Silly you. 

As the recent (and perhaps continuing) realignment of conferences makes clear, college football is about points, but they are Nielsen points.  And on the Nielsen scoreboard, UCLA crushes Stanford. 

 
The graphic is from a Nate Silver article at The New York Times (here).  It’s the companion piece to Taylor Branch’s recent article  in the Atlantic.  Branch gives the sordid details.  Nate Silver provides the systematic numbers – fan base and TV market share.  What both make clear is that college football is not about good match-ups.  It’s about good profits.
The S.E.C.’s interest in Texas A&M becomes easier to understand once you recognize that the Aggies have among the largest fan bases in the country. The fact that Notre Dame’s fans are dispersed throughout the country explains why they’ve been loathe to join a conference. And that the West Coast is less enthusiastic about football than other parts of the country, making the Pacific-12 a harder sale to the television networks, explains why the conference is going to great lengths to expand into football-crazy states like Texas.
Not to go all Marxist here, but by design, the money flows entirely to the networks, to the universities, and to the coaches.  The workers who put their bodies on the line get nothing.  Actually some of them do get some trinkets and favors, but in the ideal world of the NCAA, they are supposed to get zero dollars.  After all, they are not workers.  They are scholar-athletes, and they do get scholarships, which are worth something, though it’s questionable whether they get much of an education.  But even though they produce substantial amounts of revenue for other people,they are not workers.   Running back Kent Waldrep was paralyzed during a game in 1974.  When his university stopped paying for his medical bills, he sued for workers’ compensation. 
The appeals court finally rejected Waldrep’s claim in June of 2000, ruling that he was not an employee because he had not paid taxes on financial aid that he could have kept even if he quit football.
The university – ironists take note – was Texas Christian.


HT: My colleague George Martin for calling Silver's article to my attention. 

UPDATE, Oct. 2:  By game time, UCLA was a 23-point underdogs.  Stanford won  45 - 19No information yet on how many viewers watched the game on TV.

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