The Business of Sports

  • By John Antonik
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  • January 17, 2013 10:19 PM
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Nothing makes my eyes roll into the back of my head quite like geometry. Putting a geometry problem in front of me and asking me to solve it in front of the class would have been like asking the late Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope to describe the Immaculate Reception while it happened.

Just like Cope would have done if he had been sitting in Jack Fleming’s chair, I’m sure I would have sounded like I had just gargled vinegar.

During my high school days, I probably spent as much time with my geometry teacher Mrs. Dean during lunchtime working on problems as I did eating lunch with my classmates. You would have a better chance of meeting Manti Te’o’s girlfriend than witness me recite the principles of Euclid’s theorem.

Yes, me and math just never seemed to get along.

So whenever a sports business story comes my way it usually never leaves the end of my desk and very often winds up being relegated to the garbage can.

However, there were a couple of recent sports business stories that managed to hold my attention span long enough to avoid the circular file.

One, posted by the Wall Street Journal last week, listed the financial value of all 69 BCS-level football programs, and the University of Texas (valued at $761.7 million) came in at No. 1 on the list. Big 12 member Oklahoma was 10th at $454.7 million, while three other conference programs – Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas State – were also ranked among college football’s 25 most lucrative programs.

Interestingly enough, West Virginia – without the benefit of full financial membership in the Big 12 and still based on revenue sharing from its Big East days – was ranked 32nd with a value of $159.4 million.

The only school from the former Big East Conference to have a greater value than WVU was Virginia Tech, ranked 30th with a value of $171.5 million.

Present and former Big East members Miami ($157.7 million), Boston College ($110.2 million), Connecticut ($101.8 million), USF ($101.2 million), Syracuse ($91.4 million), Louisville ($75.4 million), Rutgers ($64.1 million), Pitt ($59.6 million), Cincinnati ($48.9 million) and Temple ($46.9 million) were each ranked below West Virginia’s value - with all but Miami and BC failing to even crack college football’s top 50 profiteers.

What was really surprising to me was just how much of a distance there was between West Virginia and two of its most traditional eastern rivals Syracuse and Pitt.

If these figures are accurate, Mountaineer football is valued at more than three times that of Pitt and approaching twice that of Syracuse – which is a real testament to the athletic department’s stewardship of the grid program over the years.

How the Wall Street Journal arrived at these figures involved several factors, including revenues, expenditures, cash-flow adjustments, risk assessments and growth projections.

So the next time you run into a Pitt fan, instead of asking them to eat something, just bring up how much more valuable your Mountaineer football program is than theirs – by a wide, wide margin actually - and do so with a smile on your face, of course.


Speaking of sports business, Forbes staff writer Chris Smith recently analyzed the top earning conferences based on television revenue, bowl game payouts and NCAA tournament distributions and concluded that the Big 12 currently has the highest per-school payout of any conference in the country at $26.2 million (that number is expected to swell to as much as $30 million per school when the new college football playoff is adopted).

Of course, West Virginia will eventually get its full share of Big 12 money as the years progress; it’s also worth noting that the Mountaineers were earning roughly $8 to $9 million per year when they were still in the Big East.

In terms of overall earners, this how the major college leagues currently stack up:
1. Big Ten ($310 million)
2. Pac 12 ($303 million)
3. ACC ($293 million)
4. SEC ($270 million)
5. Big 12 ($262 million)
6. Big East ($94 million)

For those keen on seeing the Big 12 add schools in the future to get to 12 or 14 teams like the other power conferences are doing, keep in mind the $26.2 million-per-school payout is going to always be a big factor that must be considered. Don’t forget, too, that the Big 12’s third-tier media rights are controlled by the individual schools and that adds even more revenue to the individual members’ coffers.

By the way, when the SEC completes its new television deal, it could earn as much as $34 million per school starting in 2014, according to a recent report in USA Today. Some are projecting as much as $40 million per school when Maryland and Rutgers join the Big Ten.

Now that’s a lot of dough.

And now, on to other things …


Earlier this week, ESPN Insider examined the rosters of college football’s top 20 teams in the years 1940, 1950, 1960, 1970 ... and so forth through 2010 to determine where the best high school talent has been historically located.

Not surprisingly, the top three states for producing college football talent were Texas, California and Florida.

What was also not surprising was the low number of West Virginia natives appearing on the rosters of top 20 teams in the years 2000 and 2010 (just six combined).

There were actually more native West Virginians on the rosters of top 20 football programs in the years 1940 and 1950 than in all ensuing decades combined (25 compared to 22).

Again, that is not surprising considering the amount of high-major talent West Virginia was producing on the gridiron when the state’s population was at its peak right after World War II.

And WVU benefitted greatly from homegrown players such as Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Chuck Howley and Fred Wyant in the mid-1950s before the well began to dry up.

Tennessee, Kentucky and Pitt and many other programs also had success with West Virginians during those years. In fact, a West Virginia sportswriter once estimated that there were as many as 20 Mountain State natives on Tennessee’s roster when the Vols played Rice in the 1947 Orange Bowl.

At any rate, if you run into someone from that era telling you about all of the great talent West Virginia once produced, now you know why.


Don’t discount what newly named assistant coaches Tony Gibson and Lonnie Galloway bring to the table as recruiters. Gibson successfully recruited Western Pa for WVU during his first tour of duty, landing the likes of Rimington Award winner Dan Mozes and NFL players Ryan Mundy, Pat McAfee and Don Barclay, as well as Keith Tandy from Kentucky. At Michigan, it was Gibson who recruited record-setting quarterback Denard Robinson, and during his one year at Pitt, Gibson secured the commitment of high school All-America running back Rushel Shell.

Galloway’s two biggest catches at WVU also happen to rank among the two best players in school history – defensive end Bruce Irvin and Paul Hornung Award winner Tavon Austin.

Not too shabby.

Now let’s get those two guys out on the road!


Count me among those in favor of Bob Huggins using a small lineup for the rest of this season.

During Wednesday night’s near-come-from-behind victory at Iowa State, West Virginia’s four-guard lineup of Jabarie Hinds, Juwan Staten, Eron Harris and Matt Humphrey sliced and diced the Cyclones by spreading them out, penetrating, and either going to the rim or pitching to a shooter on the wing.

After beginning the game 0 for 12 from 3, the Mountaineers hit 9 of their final 12 triples to finish the game 9 of 24 from behind the arc. Will that torrid second-half shooting continue? Likely not, but West Virginia just looks more in sync with four ball handlers out on the floor at the same time, paired with either Kevin Noreen, Aaric Murray, Dominique Rutledge or Deniz Kilicli in the post.

“We’re going to have to play small,” explained Huggins after Wednesday’s loss. “This is a different league than what we were in, it’s officiated differently, the style of play is different and we’re going to have to change.”

For the skeptics, consider what Villanova did out of necessity in 2009 when Jay Wright didn’t like what his conventional lineup was giving him. He went four-out with Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson, pairing 6-foot-8 forward Dante Cunningham with them.

That lineup ended up taking the Wildcats to the Final Four.

Advancing that far in postseason play is quite a stretch for this year’s team, but the bigger point is this: what Villanova did in 2009 illustrates how effective a four-out style can be with the right guys on the floor.

So count me in.

“We’re going with a small lineup,” Huggins reiterated. “I’m not doing that anymore (using multiple bigs at the same time). They have had ample opportunity. They’ve had over half the season. How can it be worse? We’re 1-3 (in conference play).”

It will be interesting to see how this new look performs on Saturday at Purdue. I know I will be sitting a little closer to the TV set to find out.

Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History now available in bookstores. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.


West Virginia Mountaineers, Big 12 Conference, Tony Gibson, Lonnie Galloway, Bob Huggins