A few university presidents gave Lord Acton a run for his money last week. Pun intended.

Acton in 1887 wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It isn’t power, though, that has corrupted colleges and universities. It’s money. Specifically, big money from big-time sports television. ESPN, Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC and the like.

The presidents of six universities out west went for the gold on Aug. 3 when they moved their sports teams to richer conferences. They say the did it for their “student-athletes,” but they don’t plan to give any of the added loot to the athletes.

Now, before you leave, this isn’t on sports. It’s on money corrupting sports and morally corrupting colleges, where high morals should be a first order of business. But morals at the 65 or so “Power-5” schools long ago walked out the door and through the door of the nearest bank.

Six of those Power-5 schools left the Pac(ific)12 Conference. Arizona State, Colorado, Arizona and Utah joined the Big 12, and Oregon and Washington joined the Big 10.


They did it because the $25 million per school per year offered by Apple TV+ to stream Pac 12 games (mostly football) wasn’t enough. In 2023, each Pac-12 school gets about $20 million from ESPN and Fox. They wanted more when the contract expires in 2024, but Apple came in low.

Reports vary, but TV deals for the other “Power-5” conferences (Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big 10 and Southeastern) run from $31 million a year per school (ACC) to $80+ million (Big 10).

Such money so dazzled the chairman of the University of Oregon Board of Trustees that he didn’t even interrupt his golf game while holding a Zoom meeting to OK the shift to the Big 10.

Even with all that money, some programs run in the red. Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, has rung up about $250 million in debt in the decade since it joined the Big 10. Imagine its travel costs when it has to fly 85 to 130 football players plus coaches to Big-10 rival UCLA.

Not to mention flying the soccer teams to the west coast for games that generate no ticket sales.

This may be the place for a disclaimer. I write sometimes about University of Maine athletics. I’m a fan, especially of the women’s basketball team. But UMaine is not in a P-5 conference. Most of its teams play in the America East Conference, called a “mid-major” conference.


This latest realignment is an upshot of the rot at the core of big-time sports. For years, colleges have pocketed millions from the work of athletes, who pocketed scholarships and meal chits.

Example. Nick Saban, football coach at the University of Alabama was paid $10.7 million last year. Stuart Bell, the president of ‘Bama, was paid $698,000.

A difference. Joan Ferrini-Mundi, president of the University of Maine, earned about $410,000 this year, according to the Maine Monitor. The women’s and men’s basketball coaches at UMaine are paid in the range of $160,000 a year. Contrast those figures with Alabama.

For a couple of years, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the umbrella body that supposedly runs college athletics, has let players collect NIL money. NIL stands for Name, Image, Likeness. It allows athletes to sell (or rent) their names, photos, etc. as endorsements.

At the University of Miami, the Cavinder twins, basketball players Haley and Hana, received a combined $1.7 million in 2023 from an NIL fund. The twins transferred to Miami from Fresno State, which is not a P-5 team. Neither Cavinder was Miami’s best player.

No Maine player has an NIL deal, though I have read occasionally about starting an NIL fund.


Joe Nocera, former business columnist at The New York Times, has long argued that athletes should be paid directly. Now, the California General Assembly has passed and sent to the Senate a bill requiring colleges to put some TV money into a fund to pay athletes up to $25,000 a year.

Second disclaimer. Nocera is an old friend with whom I have corresponded several times about paying college athletes. Maybe his call for wages is finally going to be answered.

David Ubben, writing in The Athletic, listed winners and losers from the shuffle. Among the losers were fans, along with regional rivalries and non-revenue sports. The first two go arm-in-arm.  Oregonians love the games between Oregon and Oregon State. As do Californians between UCLA and Cal. And Washingtonians between Washington and Washington State.

Those may not happen now. I can’t imagine Oregonians getting excited over Rutgers vs. Oregon. Or Arizonans over Arizona State vs. Central Florida (Big 12).

Atop Ubben’s list of winners was college administrators. Go figure.

Colleges and universities are beset with problems, some intensified by the pandemic and many of their own making. Even as the presidents jumped at the TV money from jumping to new conferences, they must have lots of more important problems with which to deal.

Bob Neal read that even as schools line their pockets with network bucks, ESPN is laying off staff. Profits are down. If the slide continues, maybe less money will flow to the P-5 schools. Neal can be reached at bobneal@myfairpoint.net.

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