College Football Scheduling

State legislators across the country have periodically inserted themselves into the scheduling of athletic events of their state’s universities and colleges. During the period when the Southwest Conference was breaking apart, Texas legislators threatened funding of UT and Texas A&M if they split the conference. The argument at that time was that there was value to the state of games played between the Longhorns or Aggies and other Texas institutions like Rice and the University of Houston. (Craig Depken and I have a paper in the Eastern Economic Journal looking at sales tax collections in the cities that host major college football in Texas motivated in part by the assertion made by the Texas legislators.) A similar argument was made by the governor of West Virginia who wanted WVU to schedule Marshall. Likewise, a state legislator from North Carolina introduced legislation a few years ago that would have mandated that UNC and NC State schedule games against East Carolina University. Again, the supposed economic benefits to the state of such games was touted.

A state Delegate from Maryland has recently offered a bill that would require the University of Maryland to schedule games against Towson University and Morgan State University. The Baltimore Sun article reporting the bill does not indicate that economic benefits to the state are a primary motivation for the Terps to play games against the Tigers and Bears. Instead, the rationale is that the Terps, an FBS institution, schedule FCS institutions from out of state (last season they played James Madison University), so they should play in-state FCS institutions Towson and Morgan State instead, at least once every four years. The kicker is, FBS schools make big payouts to schedule FCS institutions. If the FBS school can make a big payday for an out of state FCS, why not make that big payday for an in-state FCS? In other words, the athletic department from College Park ought reasonably to subsidize in-state schools rather than out-of-state schools.

Why such subsidies and the attendant micro-managing implicit in the legislation is good public policy is not explained. We are told by the athletic director from Morgan, however, that “It would help us enhance our student support programs, invest in summer school programs and would be a key part in our budget planning.” Kerr also commented that while the scheduling might be good for Morgan, “I’m not sure about legislation being necessary to accomplish it”. In fact, both Towson and Morgan are already scheduled to play games against the Terps in coming years, and this scheduling occurred without the threat of the legislation.

A broader issue is what happens if Maryland passes this legislation, and then fails to schedule games against out-of-state FCS schools. Perhaps other states pass similar legislation. Then the out of state FBS schools that have scheduled Towson and Morgan will be unable or unwilling to do so. The Maryland colleges will no longer get the subsidies from FBS schools from out-of-state. Even if that does not happen, the games against the Terps reduce the number of available games for scheduling out-of-state FBS teams, and reduce the subsidies Towson and Morgan will collect from them. Whether the scheduling of games against the Terps is a net gain or a net loss for Morgan and Towson is not obvious. In any case, it is likely to have little material impact. Of course, alternate legislation could impose the restriction that Morgan and Towson must schedule games against out-of-state FBS schools, as doing so results in revenues. (Whether those revenues cover the travel and other costs is another issue.)

So, for me, legislation such as this is a) likely to have little benefit or cost, and b) the best people to make decisions in the best interests of the institutions are the people leading those institutions. Regarding the first point, if there is little benefit or cost, it is hard to imagine that state legislators don’t have better things to do with their time than debate such “issues”. Regarding the second, it is clear that adding constraints cannot result in an improved ability to attain the institutional goals. Reducing the ability of the institutions to find scheduling arrangements that are the best for them by limiting their options will, at best, have no effect and at worst make matters worse.

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Author: Dennis Coates

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