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WSJ Sports


When I went through our newspapers this morning, I opened the Wall Street Journal’s fluffy section — Personal Journal — looked at an article on its front page about a feature at tripadvisor.com that lets you compare the real costs of booking with one airline versus another on a particular route (including baggage fees, food, and so on), then read an article on the back page about the Big East basketball conference’s annual tournament that started tonight at Madison Square Garden. The Big East is the biggest of the major conferences, with 16 teams, and a noteworthy feature of this year’s tournament is that all 16 are invited, not just the top 8 or 12. It was an interesting article, to the extent that reading about the end-of-regular-season, pre-NCAA-tournament conference championships are interesting. But I didn’t think much about the fact that there was such an article. The WSJ has articles on just about any imaginable topic.

Late this afternoon, I looked at the WSJ’s front section, which evidently I had failed to do in my first pass this morning, and I noticed the banner headline on a green background stating “It’s Official – Sports in the Journal D12.” Wow! Sports in the WSJ. I mean, I knew it was due to happen. Ever since Murdoch bought it, it has slowly moved towards a regular paper. And as local papers die (our own Seattle Post-Intelligencer, owned by Hearst Corporation, is likely to die this week), the diversifying WSJ will be better positioned to compete with what are in effect its only national competitors, the NYT and USA Today. But still, a WSJ sports section? I turned immediately to D12 to see what they would be covering. And found an article about the Big East basketball conference’s annual tournament. Somehow I was oblivious this morning to the fact that I was reading the inaugural WSJ sports page. I turned back a page, anticipating that there might be more sports pages, but there weren’t. One page in from the back was the usual Leisure & Arts page. But it did have another sports article, one with a business slant written by Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith, in which the economics of the NCAA basketball tournament is discussed.

The Zimbalist article had no real surprises, but I can’t resist quoting two comments in which Zimbalist can’t quite restrain himself from pointing out, in passing, the absurdity of big-time college sports. First, in a discussion of the finances of major college basketball, he observes:

And the coaches don’t fare too shabbily either. In 2005-06, the head coaches of the 65 Division I teams in Madness [the NCAA championship tournament] had an average maximum compensation of $959,486, with the top paid coach earning a guaranteed salary of $2.1 million and a maximum salary of $3.4 million. These figures exclude extensive perquisites, including free use of cars, housing subsidies, country-club memberships, access to private jets, exceptionally generous severance packages, handsome opportunities for outside income, and more.

These guys are making almost as much as NBA coaches, even though their teams’ revenues generally are below one-tenth those in the senior circuit. The trick, of course, is that the players aren’t allowed to be paid, so the coaches, in essence, get the value produced by their recruits.

And here is the close of the article: “And the maddest part of it all is that the ‘student-athletes’ are doing all this entertaining during their semester. But not to worry: Article I of the NCAA Bylaws stipulates that intercollegiate sports are to be subordinate to the academic mission of the college.”

Let me elaborate on this last point. With the expansion of the Big East tournament to all 16 teams, there are now 5 rounds. The top teams have byes, but if a team with a low seed surprised everyone by making it to the championship game, it would play five straight days, Tuesday through Saturday. Our own basketball team, the regular season Pac-10 champion and currently ranked 10th and 13th in the two major polls, starts play in the Pac-10 tournament tomorrow, having gotten a bye today. They will play next week in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. This week is the last week of classes for the quarter. Next week is finals week. If they keep going, they will play the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds during our break between quarters. If they keep going further, they will play in the Final Four during the first week of Spring Quarter, thereby disrupting the end of one quarter and the start of the next. Of course, I’ll be rooting for them. But no wonder it’s called March Madness!

Categories: Economics, Newspapers, Sports
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