Thursday, April 28, 2005

White Flag | by Mike

With the unveiling of the latest Bowl Championship Series agreement, it became apparent that Kevin White did not play the role of zealous advocate for Notre Dame's interests that his job requires. The latest agreement is a significant triumph for conference commissioner dorks and a body blow to Notre Dame. Whereas the previous agreement provided fitting compensation for Notre Dame's performance - a full share ($14 million) when Notre Dame plays in a BCS game, nothing when the Irish do not - the current deal provides Notre Dame with a guaranteed $1 million each year but limits the payout for actually playing in a BCS game to $4.5 million. Where exactly does that $10 million difference disappear to? The coffers of the BCS conferences, of course. Even Andrew Bagnato recognized the significance of these changes:

But now the Fighting Irish are acting as if they are a mere conference member, happy to let BCS money roll in without having to actually play in a game. Sort of like Vanderbilt.
This deal is horrible for Notre Dame for several reasons, but three deserve particular mention.

First, the deal will almost certainly produce less revenue for Notre Dame than the previous deal.

Even when viewed solely from the perspective of revenue generation, the new deal fails to advance Notre Dame's interests. Some have argued that, given Notre Dame's recent on-field malaise, we are better off accepting the BCS's pittance than we would be under a merit-based system. This argument only makes sense if you assume Notre Dame will be even worse going forward than it has been under the coaching as performance art that characterized the Davie-Willingham Era.

Consider Notre Dame's peformance over the first seven years of the BCS's existence. During six of those years, Notre Dame failed to reach a bowl. However, even Bob Davie once found himself pacing the sidelines of a BCS game. In this one year, Notre Dame earned a payout of $14 million. Thus in seven years, Notre Dame brought in a total of $14 million.

Now apply the current rules to the past seven years. In the six years in which Notre Dame did not reach a BCS game, Notre Dame would have received $1 million dollars. However, when Notre Dame played showed up for appeared in the 2001 Fiasco Bowl, Notre Dame would have received just $4.5 million. Thus, the net BCS revenues over this seven year period would have been only $10.5 million.

If one assumes Weis were to repeat the Davie-Willingham feat of one BCS game in seven years, Notre Dame stands to lose $3.5 million. Consider, however, what will happen if Weis improves even slightly over his predecessors. Let's run the numbers if Weis were to take Notre Dame to two BCS games in the next seven years. Under the old agreement, two BCS games at $14 million per would produce $28 million for Notre Dame. Under the new agreement, Notre Dame would receive $1 million in each of the five years the Irish did not reach the BCS and $4.5 million in the two years the Irish did. Notre Dame would then bring in only $14 million. Ouch.

Second, the new deal removes a powerful incentive for the Notre Dame administration to address deficiencies in the football program.

Tying compensation to performance is a good thing. When I invest in a company, I feel better knowing that its CEO's remuneration is tied to the company's performance. An executive with such a compensation package is more likely to address problems than one with a fixed salary. Performance-based pay forces the CEO to fix things. Similarly, Notre Dame's "eat what you kill" arrangement gave all but the most delinquent of executives a powerful incentive to fix the football program.

Supporters of the new agreement have offered the argument, "At least we get something in the down years." That is not in the best interests of Notre Dame football. I want the bad years to hurt. When failure has consequences, failure will be addressed. Insert your favorite Glengarry Glen Ross quote here.

Third, the deal raises the specter of absolutely devastating moves in the future.

Normally, the only people dumber than those who offer message board conspiracies are those who believe them. Every so often, however, someone with established connections is able to offer a glimpse at what the future might hold.

Noted NDNation poster FONToKNOW suggested this latest move might portend the following:
This deal was attractive for one reason and one reason alone to Whalloy [the two-headed monster of White and Malloy]: it pushes us in the direction of the Big 10.

We know Whalloy have a jones for conference membership. It is clear that ND's semi-regular dance with the Big 10 over the last 7 years has been driven by senior leadership's jones for acceptance by the secular academic world, in particular the research giants that have residence in Madison, Ann Arbor, and Chambana.

It is a foregone conclusion that the Big 10 will come calling again in 2007 or 2008 and offer more guaranteed revenue to ND than we get today. That's key. Remember when we last danced with the Big 10? It was concluded that revenue from membership in the Big 10 would be a wash compared to the status quo. That was with the assumption of 2 BCS appearances every 7 years. When the Big 10 comes calling again, they will be able to offer a financial package far superior to what we can get as a football independent. The decision to stay independent becomes far more difficult at this point. Checkmate Whalloy?
Shudder. Should this seem too far-fetched, recall the air biscuit SID John Heisler floated in a recent Notre Dame magazine, presumably at the behest of White and Malloy. Recall also White's well-documented revenue jones.

Where do we go from here?

At a time when people throughout the administration (Fr. Jenkins, EVP John Affleck-Graves, even the admissions office) are showing signs that ND football is a strong buy, Kevin White and Monk Malloy decided to short ND.

While the dynamic duo may not have realized the leverage Notre Dame had in these negotiations, at least one party did:
"Obviously, they're the top recognized brand name nationally," Fiesta Bowl President John Junker said. "Other teams are loved and followed. But in all parts of the country, Notre Dame sets the standard."