Big Ten Revenue Sharing: Are Michigan & Ohio State Getting Fair Shares?

Jeff KalafaAnalyst IIIFebruary 28, 2010

It started when I read a quote by Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who was commenting on the the possibility of Big Ten expansion.  He told CBS Sports, "You just don't jump into the league and get a full share of what everyone else in this league has established over time."

It seemed like a prudent reaction to the thought of losing part of Wisconsin's share of the pooled Big Ten revenue, which is split in equal shares between its 11 members. 

Alvarez wasn't the only Big Ten exec who expressed concern.  Former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin basically said the same thing.  He also spoke with CBS and said, "I cannot see our 11 institutions simply saying we're going to divide our pie up in more pieces from Day 1."

The difference between these two statements, in my mind:  I thought the Michigan AD has all the right in the world to say it.  I thought Alvarez sounded like a hypocrite—an ungrateful one at that.

Here's why:  If Alvarez applied the same standards he called for in his statement to CBS, to his own school, one would wonder why Wisconsin has gotten such a sweet deal for over 100 years as a member of the Big Ten Conference.


A Full Share of What Everyone Else in this League Has Established

Who's established the Big Ten Conference since its inceptions in 1896, of which Wisconsin was a founding member?  Has Wisconsin had a big part in creating what has become the wealthiest conference in college sports, or has it been schools like Michigan, Ohio State, and more recently, Penn State?

Michigan, also a founding member, claims 11 NCAA football National Championships.  Ohio State claims six, and Penn State claims four.  Wisconsin is still waiting to win its first.

Since 1896 Michigan has gone to 20 Rose bowls.  They would have been eligible to go to more, but a conference rule disallowing a team to appear in consecutive seasons, has held down their total.

Ohio State has appeared in 17 Rose Bowls and they were also limited because of the same conference rule.

Wisconsin has gone to six Rose Bowls.

Michigan, the winningest school in all of NCAA division 1, and Ohio State are responsible for establishing this conference and making it what it is today.

When Barry Alvarez took over as Wisconsin head coach in 1990, he raised the level of football significantly.  He took a team that had always been mediocre at best, and made them an excellent football team that has always challenged for the Big Ten Title—No one is denying that Wisconsin has become a football power.

But it was Michigan and Ohio State that established this great conference, and their annual game has become the biggest game of the college football season.


What About the Other Revenue Producing Sport?

In basketball, which brings in less revenue than football, Indiana has been the trademark school of the Big Ten.  They've won three National Championships and have appeared in 35 NCAA tournaments.

Michigan State has won two National Championships and Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin have each won one.

Illinois (28), Ohio State (25), Michigan State (23), Purdue (23), Iowa (22), and Michigan (21) trail Indiana in tournament appearances.

Wisconsin has appeared in 15 NCAA tournaments and the remaining Big Ten schools have done little to enhance the conference's image in basketball.



The Age of Super Television Contracts Is Upon Us

Now that we have reached an age when conferences are receiving huge payouts from television networks, who's turned the Big Ten into the biggest money making machine in college sports?  Is it Wisconsin?  Or schools like Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State?

The Big Ten pools the money they make from television, bowl pay outs, and the Big Ten Network.  That's why last year every member received the same $22 million in revenue sharing.

Wisconsin is the second smallest state in the family of states that make up the Big Ten Conference.  Approximately 5.5 million people reside in Wisconsin.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan all have 10 million or more residents.  Schools from these states are turning on a lot of televisions and selling a lot of subscriptions to the Big Ten Network.

Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Purdue are doing a good job, but the big ratings are coming from the big states. 

Even though Michigan has two entrees in the Big Ten (Mich & MSU), Michigan has such a long tradition of winning, it has created a national reputation and it recruits nationally for students and athletes.


BCS Bowl Games Pay Big Money

Lets talk about the BCS era and the huge money teams that play in BCS games are paid.

Wisconsin went to a BCS game (Rose Bowl) in 1988, the first year of the BCS.  They brought home a substantial check which they shared with the other members of the Big Ten.  This was the only time they appeared in a BCS game.

Ohio State has brought home six checks, and they've now become more than substantial (aprox. $20 million/yr).  Michigan has gone to three BCS games.

Who's been responsible for bringing in the big money from BCS bowls?  Wisconsin?  Or Michigan and Ohio State?


Have Michigan and Ohio State Been Working for Other Members?

One of the great things about the Big Ten, and it might be one of the reasons it's become the most successful conference in college football, is its policy of sharing pooled money equally among members.  Not all conferences work this way.

Last season each share was a resounding $22 million.  The SEC was the second most prosperous conference and paid their members about half as much as the Big Ten.

I'm not saying it's time for the Big Ten to change a policy which everyone seems to be able to live with.  I'm just pointing out who have been the real bread winners of this conference.  Michigan, Ohio State, and now Penn State are clearly putting the money on the Big Ten's table.


Was Alvarez's Statement Necessary?

When Barry Alvarez told CBS he's not looking forward to losing any of his yearly $22 million, when he went as far to say, "I think someone has to buy their way into the league," he sounds ridiculous.  He sounds like a hypocrite—an ungrateful one at that.

Instead of making demands on new members, Alvarez should be thankful that Wisconsin has the privilege to belong to the Big Ten Conference—a conference which has had the luxury of having Michigan, Ohio State, and now Penn State as members.


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