I like Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder and I agree with every point he made Wednesday about how college athletics, and especially big-time college football, has become more about big money than quality education.
Snyder, during Kansas State’s football media day, used his platform – again – to point out the how he believes the money being thrown around in college football nowadays distorts what used to be a clearer picture.
“It’s changed,” Snyder said. “I mean college athletics, football in particular, has changed dramatically over the years. I think we’ve sold out. We’re all about dollars and cents.”
Snyder is saying nothing that he hasn’t said before. Or nothing that many associated with college athletics haven’t expressed concern about, whether that concern is real or manufactured. The rich are getting richer in college sports, as we learned again Thursday when it was announced that the NCAA’s power five conferences – Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, SEC, Pac-12 – are now free to make up their own rules. Or at least many of them.
The little guys, once again, are being left out in the cold while the powers that be in college sports par-tay on the inside. It’s a trend not just in college athletics, but in every-day American society. Class structures are more pronounced now than ever. And if you’re at the top of the class, you’re not necessarily concerned about those in the middle or at the bottom.
“It’s no longer about education,” Snyder said Wednesday. “We’ve sold out to the cameras over there and TV has made its way. And I don’t fault TV. I don’t fault whoever broadcasts games. They have to make a living and that’s what they do. But athletics — that’s it. It’s sold out.”
Kansas State, of course, is in one of the big five conferences. The Wildcats play in a stadium named for Snyder, one that recently underwent $90 million in renovations with $65 million more scheduled to begin after the 2014 season.
Snyder is also working under a five-year contract, signed last year, that pays him an average of nearly $3 million annually. While there is undoubtedly a “Keep Up With the Joneses” mentality in college athletics, it is not a mentality that has escaped Kansas State.
“Everybody is building Taj Mahals,” Snyder said. “And I think it sends the message — and young people today I think are more susceptible to the downside of that message, and that it’s not about education. We’re saying it is, but it’s really about the glitz and the glitter, and I think sometimes values get distorted that way. I hate to think a young guy would make a decision about where he’s going to get an education based on what a building looks like.”
Snyder is a strong believer in education and in young people. During his three years away from coaching, after he retired in 2005, Snyder became involved in a youth mentoring program called Kansas Mentors. When he expresses concern for the state of college sports, and specifically football, he is coming from a good and, I believe, genuine place.
The place where he works, however, has bought in to the new ways. It’s impossible to survive – and especially to succeed – without doing so in today’s climate of college sports.
“Our professors — I have an office I could swim in,” Snyder said Wednesday. “They’re in a cubbyhole somewhere, yet they go out and teach and promote education every day and I value that.”
It’s fascinating to listen to and read what he has to say on the subject. But it’s also impossible not to acknowledge the contradictions.
Snyder is part of the big wheel that turns college sports, whether he likes it or not. All around him, new buildings are going up and coaches are being paid exorbitant amounts of money. Kansas State will benefit from $26 million in television revenue this year, according to Ivan Maisel at ESPN.com.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was in New York on Thursday when the NCAA Board of Governors, of which he is a member, voted to grant autonomy to the five biggest revenue-producing FBS conferences and Notre Dame.
“I think we got to a place,” Bowlsby said, “where we just believe there was a need for us to be perhaps a little less egalitarian, a little less magnanimous about the 350 schools and spend a little time worrying about the most severe issues that are troubling our programs among the 65.”
Strong words. Direct words. The big boys in the NCAA have decided it’s time for them to break free.
Meanwhile, Snyder obviously laments the way college athletics has grown, eating everything in its way. Yet he doesn’t push his plate away. He’s hungry, whether he wants to be or not.