Cutting football was the best move this college ever made
Six years ago, Michael Sorrell made a decision that threatened his reputation and maybe his job.
His tenure as president of Paul Quinn College started in 2007 and, shortly thereafter, he opted to cut football in an effort to save money.
The response on campus was not pleasant.
“Predictably, we had folks who were, I guess, the reaction was loud,” Sorrell says.
This was in football-nuts Dallas, only seven miles from the heart of the city. Sorrell was not anti-sports, either. He played basketball and loved football. He just felt the sport was “something economically we could not justify.”
Sorrell made an offer to the angry defenders of the sport: Raise $2 million to save football, and he would match it.
“To date,” Sorrell says, “no one has raised a dollar.”
College football is dealing with an emerging financial crisis. It’s plaguing programs as large as the University of Tennessee, which was a reported $200 million in debt over the summer, and as small as Grambling, which is begging alums for donations after poor facilities led to a player mutiny earlier this month. Escalating coaches’ salaries and declining attendance have led to real concern that the entire college football complex will become insolvent, leaving only a few schools with thriving programs.
“We are standing on the precipice of an economic day of reckoning in higher education,” Sorrell says. “I think there will be more schools to do this. I think we’re just early.”
Football was eating $600,000 of Sorrell’s budget, and Paul Quinn is a tiny school of only 250 students. How could he continue to educate when so much funding was going to something that wasn’t building an academic reputation?
He simply couldn’t. So the field sat vacant.
Sorrell moved on to a much bigger issue: his school is located in a food desert with neither a restaurant nor a grocery store nearby, and many of the students at the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi are poor. Eighty percent of the students at Paul Quinn are Pell Grant-eligible. (There’s a “clothes closet” on campus where students can get business casualwear for free, and money had to be raised so students could afford eyeglasses to read.)
A year after the end of football, Sorrell was meeting with a real estate investor named Trammell Crow. They bandied about the idea of devoting a tract of land to producing food for the community. But where?
Sorrell joked that they should just build a farm on the football field.
The jest quickly turned into a reality, and the school’s future was changed for the better.
Some of the produce grown in full view of the scoreboard would go to local food banks and the surrounding community. Some of it, eventually, could be sold.
What can you imagine Peyton Manning doing? Let’s build him an analogical world. You can imagine him wearing a short-sleeve button-down dress shirt. You can imagine him speed-typing numbers on an old-fashioned adding machine. You can imagine him lining up the corners on a pack of yellow legal pads. You can imagine him carrying coffee. You can imagine him researching lawn mowers. You can imagine him leaving early for work to take the station wagon in for a wax job and sliding Astral Weeks into the CD changer and watching the gray morning light settle on a street full of Dunkin’ Donuts and drive-through bank branches and thinking to himself, This is the time of day I like best.
It’s a cliché to note that he’s got some curious OCD tendencies — all that finger-licking under center,3 those rapid-fire Tourette’s bursts of audibles. What’s incredible is the cumulative effect 10,000 perfectly executed seven-yard reads have had over the years. At this stage in his late career, really for the whole season-plus he’s been with Denver, Manning makes being a midlevel IT manager look like a form of ruthless conquest. It’s as if he wrote a script to install automatic PC updates, and somehow it made him the god-emperor of hell.4 This is how he plays football: He goes out every week with a graphing calculator and a stack of forms, and he just audits teams to death.
We had a good discussion today on the Saskatoon Afternoon Roundtable about hockey fights and the Mayor’s lack of leadership on active transportation and cutting congestion on Saskatoon City Streets. I may have called him “clueless”. If I would have brought my “A” game, I would have called him the “Gary Bettman of Mayors” and bridged the segments. Next time (we talk municipal politics and hockey in the same segment).
Last year was a busy one for public giveaways to the National Football League. In Virginia, Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, who styles himself as a budget-slashing conservative crusader, took $4 million from taxpayers’ pockets and handed the money to the Washington Redskins, for the team to upgrade a workout facility. Hoping to avoid scrutiny, McDonnell approved the gift while the state legislature was out of session. The Redskins’ owner, Dan Snyder, has a net worth estimated by Forbes at $1 billion. But even billionaires like to receive expensive gifts.
Taxpayers in Hamilton County, Ohio, which includes Cincinnati, were hit with a bill for $26 million in debt service for the stadiums where the NFL’s Bengals and Major League Baseball’s Reds play, plus another $7 million to cover the direct operating costs for the Bengals’ field. Pro-sports subsidies exceeded the $23.6 million that the county cut from health-and-human-services spending in the current two-year budget (and represent a sizable chunk of the $119 million cut from Hamilton County schools). Press materials distributed by the Bengals declare that the team gives back about $1 million annually to Ohio community groups. Sound generous? That’s about 4 percent of the public subsidy the Bengals receive annually from Ohio taxpayers.
In Minnesota, the Vikings wanted a new stadium, and were vaguely threatening to decamp to another state if they didn’t get it. The Minnesota legislature, facing a $1.1 billion budget deficit, extracted $506 million from taxpayers as a gift to the team, covering roughly half the cost of the new facility. Some legislators argued that the Vikings should reveal their finances: privately held, the team is not required to disclose operating data, despite the public subsidies it receives. In the end, the Minnesota legislature folded, giving away public money without the Vikings’ disclosing information in return. The team’s principal owner, Zygmunt Wilf, had a 2011 net worth estimated at $322 million; with the new stadium deal, the Vikings’ value rose about $200 million, by Forbes’s estimate, further enriching Wilf and his family. They will make a token annual payment of $13 million to use the stadium, keeping the lion’s share of all NFL ticket, concession, parking, and, most important, television revenues.
After approving the $506 million handout, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said, “I’m not one to defend the economics of professional sports … Any deal you make in that world doesn’t make sense from the way the rest of us look at it.” Even by the standards of political pandering, Dayton’s irresponsibility was breathtaking.
In California, the City of Santa Clara broke ground on a $1.3 billion stadium for the 49ers. Officially, the deal includes $116 million in public funding, with private capital making up the rest. At least, that’s the way the deal was announced. A new government entity, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, is borrowing $950 million, largely from a consortium led by Goldman Sachs, to provide the majority of the “private” financing. Who are the board members of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority? The members of the Santa Clara City Council. In effect, the city of Santa Clara is providing most of the “private” funding. Should something go wrong, taxpayers will likely take the hit.
The 49ers will pay Santa Clara $24.5 million annually in rent for four decades, which makes the deal, from the team’s standpoint, a 40-year loan amortized at less than 1 percent interest. At the time of the agreement, 30-year Treasury bonds were selling for 3 percent, meaning the Santa Clara contract values the NFL as a better risk than the United States government.
Although most of the capital for the new stadium is being underwritten by the public, most football revenue generated within the facility will be pocketed by Denise DeBartolo York, whose net worth is estimated at $1.1 billion, and members of her family. York took control of the team in 2000 from her brother, Edward DeBartolo Jr., after he pleaded guilty to concealing an extortion plot by a former governor of Louisiana. Brother and sister inherited their money from their father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., a shopping-mall developer who became one of the nation’s richest men before his death in 1994. A generation ago, the DeBartolos made their money the old-fashioned way, by hard work in the free market. Today, the family’s wealth rests on political influence and California tax subsidies. Nearly all NFL franchises are family-owned, converting public subsidies and tax favors into high living for a modern-day feudal elite.
Pro-football coaches talk about accountability and self-reliance, yet pro-football owners routinely binge on giveaways and handouts. A year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the Saints resumed hosting NFL games: justifiably, a national feel-good story. The finances were another matter. Taxpayers have, in stages, provided about $1 billion to build and later renovate what is now known as the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (All monetary figures in this article have been converted to 2013 dollars.) The Saints’ owner, Tom Benson, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $1.2 billion, keeps nearly all revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcast rights. Taxpayers even footed the bill for the addition of leather stadium seats with cup holders to cradle the drinks they are charged for at concession stands. And corporate welfare for the Saints doesn’t stop at stadium construction and renovation costs. Though Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal claims to be an anti-spending conservative, each year the state of Louisiana forcibly extracts up to $6 million from its residents’ pockets and gives the cash to Benson as an “inducement payment”—the actual term used—to keep Benson from developing a wandering eye.
In NFL city after NFL city, this pattern is repeated. CenturyLink Field, where the Seattle Seahawks play, opened in 2002, with Washington State taxpayers providing $390 million of the $560 million construction cost. The Seahawks, owned by Paul Allen, one of the richest people in the world, pay the state about $1 million annually in rent in return for most of the revenue from ticket sales, concessions, parking, and broadcasting (all told, perhaps $200 million a year). Average people are taxed to fund Allen’s private-jet lifestyle.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of six Super Bowls, the most of any franchise, play at Heinz Field, a glorious stadium that opens to a view of the serenely flowing Ohio and Allegheny Rivers. Pennsylvania taxpayers contributed about $260 million to help build Heinz Field—and to retire debt from the Steelers’ previous stadium. Most game-day revenues (including television fees) go to the Rooney family, the majority owner of the team. The team’s owners also kept the $75 million that Heinz paid to name the facility.
Judith Grant Long, a Harvard University professor of urban planning, calculates that league-wide, 70 percent of the capital cost of NFL stadiums has been provided by taxpayers, not NFL owners. Many cities, counties, and states also pay the stadiums’ ongoing costs, by providing power, sewer services, other infrastructure, and stadium improvements. When ongoing costs are added, Long’s research finds, the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans have turned a profit on stadium subsidies alone—receiving more money from the public than they needed to build their facilities. Long’s estimates show that just three NFL franchises—the New England Patriots, New York Giants, and New York Jets—have paid three-quarters or more of their stadium capital costs.
Many NFL teams have also cut sweetheart deals to avoid taxes. The futuristic new field where the Dallas Cowboys play, with its 80,000 seats, go-go dancers on upper decks, and built-in nightclubs, has been appraised at nearly $1 billion. At the basic property-tax rate of Arlington, Texas, where the stadium is located, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would owe at least $6 million a year in property taxes. Instead he receives no property-tax bill, so Tarrant County taxes the property of average people more than it otherwise would.
In his office at 345 Park Avenue in Manhattan, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell must smile when Texas exempts the Cowboys’ stadium from taxes, or the governor of Minnesota bows low to kiss the feet of the NFL. The National Football League is about two things: producing high-quality sports entertainment, which it does very well, and exploiting taxpayers, which it also does very well. Goodell should know—his pay, about $30 million in 2011, flows from an organization that does not pay corporate taxes.
That’s right—extremely profitable and one of the most subsidized organizations in American history, the NFL also enjoys tax-exempt status. On paper, it is the Nonprofit Football League.
This situation came into being in the 1960s, when Congress granted antitrust waivers to what were then the National Football League and the American Football League, allowing them to merge, conduct a common draft, and jointly auction television rights. The merger was good for the sport, stabilizing pro football while ensuring quality of competition. But Congress gave away the store to the NFL while getting almost nothing for the public in return.
The 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act was the first piece of gift-wrapped legislation, granting the leagues legal permission to conduct television-broadcast negotiations in a way that otherwise would have been price collusion. Then, in 1966, Congress enacted Public Law 89‑800, which broadened the limited antitrust exemptions of the 1961 law. Essentially, the 1966 statute said that if the two pro-football leagues of that era merged—they would complete such a merger four years later, forming the current NFL—the new entity could act as a monopoly regarding television rights. Apple or ExxonMobil can only dream of legal permission to function as a monopoly: the 1966 law was effectively a license for NFL owners to print money. Yet this sweetheart deal was offered to the NFL in exchange only for its promise not to schedule games on Friday nights or Saturdays in autumn, when many high schools and colleges play football.
Public Law 89-800 had no name—unlike, say, the catchy USA Patriot Act or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Congress presumably wanted the bill to be low-profile, given that its effect was to increase NFL owners’ wealth at the expense of average people.
While Public Law 89-800 was being negotiated with congressional leaders, NFL lobbyists tossed in the sort of obscure provision that is the essence of the lobbyist’s art. The phrase or professional football leagues was added to Section 501(c)6 of 26 U.S.C., the Internal Revenue Code. Previously, a sentence in Section 501(c)6 had granted not-for-profit status to “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, or boards of trade.” Since 1966, the code has read: “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues.”
The insertion of professional football leagues into the definition of not-for-profit organizations was a transparent sellout of public interest. This decision has saved the NFL uncounted millions in tax obligations, which means that ordinary people must pay higher taxes, public spending must decline, or the national debt must increase to make up for the shortfall. Nonprofit status applies to the NFL’s headquarters, which administers the league and its all-important television contracts. Individual teams are for-profit and presumably pay income taxes—though because all except the Green Bay Packers are privately held and do not disclose their finances, it’s impossible to be sure.
I love Cairns Field. It seats 5000 people which is small enough to feel cozy yet large enough to feel like an event. The best part of it is that if you are there, you are watching some pretty good baseball being played by the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets on a warm Saskatoon summer night.
The bad part about Cairns Field is it’s location. It’s tucked away between Holiday Park and the South Industrial section. It’s hard to get to and even hard to find. I have had more than one person that was going to meet us at the game text and ask, “now where exactly is this Cairns Field”.
Cairns Field represents Saskatoon’s best chance at professional sports. Professional basketball in Canada is the Toronto Raptors, we aren’t big enough for MLS or even NASL soccer, the CFL won’t put an additional team in Saskatchewan, and those that think that the NHL is coming are delusional (I’ve heard the arguments and they aren’t based in reality). Minor league baseball (and maybe an AHL team) is the one team that can thrive in Saskatoon but it’s going to be hard if it is stuck back in it’s current location.
So where do you put it? Well baseball needs to be close to downtown and close to amenities. That is going to be a challenge anywhere in Saskatoon unless we can put it in the North Downtown redevelopment where the city yards are currently located.
I am not saying it is ever going to happen but it would be an amazing place to walk down to and have dinner and then watch a game followed by a couple of drinks at a nearby pub. They have done it in Winnipeg and for 50 nights each summer (plus playoffs) up to 7481 people come downtown to enjoy The Forks and watch a game (and spend money while down there).
A cozy stadium of 5,000 seats in the heart of Saskatoon with affordable ticket prices? I can see that working. Especially if we can find a way to up the quality of ball being played to A or AA baseball.
If that fails, maybe the city can build a decent website for the field that makes it clearer that it exists and how to get there. That would be a good first step.
Gordie Howe Bowl is a terrible stadium and it will be even after the renovations. I know its home to the Saskatoon Hilltops, the 834 time Canadian Junior Football champions but that doesn’t mean it’s a decent stadium.
The stands are a long ways away from the playing field and the seats are sloped well back. It’s more a saucer than it is a bowl which means that the stadium is quiet, even with a crowd full of cow bells and air horns.
The concessions are terrible which makes a bad game day experience worse., even if watching the Saskatoon Hilltops is always worth your time and money. For high school football, the size is too large even for frosh week or rivalry games. Even when attendance is goodl, half of the stadium is empty.
Proponents of Howe Bowl point out that the improvements (larger dressing rooms that no one uses), concessions, and field turf will make the game better. Field turf has shredded (63%) more knees (players hate it) and caused more concussions than decent grass ever has. The medical evidence for keeping players on natural grass is significant, especially since most high school seasons are done before the extreme cold hits (I know there are exceptions, I have played in them). By upgrading Howe Bowl and making it cheaper to maintain (our city’s m.o.) we are making it less safe for high school athletes.
The solution is to stop the fundraising for the stadium and move the Hilltops to Griffiths Stadium. As for high school football, construct metal stands on each high school field like they do in almost every other city in North America and have them play there. Most high school fields are in good shape and the addition of some bleachers means that home field would really mean something.
As for the Hilltops, it isn’t as if this is a big move as the Hilltops play late season games at Griffiths each season after the high school teams have destroyed the turf at the Bowl. Canadian championships have been won at Griffiths Stadium. It has history for both the Huskies and Hilltops not to mention city high school games and even the Charity Bowl.
Gordie Howe Bowl has a lot of tradition but there is no need to have a separate field for both the Huskies and Hilltops. The field is out of date and the upgrades will make it dangerous for players. It was a poorly conceived idea from the start.
Plus, this commercial makes a lot more sense when a high school actually has a “home field”.
Josh Harris said Newark’s Prudential Center was a more important financial piece in his purchase of the New Jersey Devils than the hockey team itself.
Harris and David Blitzer, a New Jersey native and senior managing director of Blackstone Group LP, purchased the National Hockey League franchise last month in an agreement that also gave the partnership control of the Prudential Center.
Located three blocks from Newark’s main transportation hub, the $385 million Prudential Center was opened in 2007. Harris called it “one of the most modern arenas in the country.”
“And we think that with the new capital structure and the new ownership group and the new management that we put in, that we’ll be able to make this arena really realize its potential financially,” Harris said in a Bloomberg Television interview.
Harris, who bought the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers in 2011, acquired the NHL team in a deal valued at about $300 million.
Harris has already made changes to the Devils’ business personnel, hiring Scott O’Neil as chief executive officer. The former president of Madison Square Garden Sports, O’Neil is also the chief executive of the 76ers.
Harris said he viewed the Prudential Center as complementary to New York City’s two main arenas, Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The home of theNBA’s New York Knicks and NHL’s New York Rangers, the Garden is completing a $1 billion private renovation. The $1 billion Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, opened last year.
“If you’re a big concert event and you stop in New York, you’re probably going to play one of MSG and Barclays, and this arena,” Harris said of the Devils’ home.
O’Neil said in another Bloomberg Television interview last week that the Prudential Center was the fourth-highest grossing arena in the nation, behind Barclays, the Garden and Staples Center in Los Angeles. He didn’t offer specific figures or the source of his information.
Located about 11 miles (18 kilometers) from New York City, the Prudential Center has been a one-tenant building since the Nets moved to Brooklyn prior to the 2012-13 season. Harris said the venue’s concerts and special events would be enough to sustain the building without a second professional team.
“Having a basketball team, an NBA team, in this arena is not in the business plan right now,” Harris said. “We don’t think it’s necessary.”
Interesting bit of arena drama right now in New York. You have Madison Square Garden being evicted, the Nassau Coliseum being totally renovated and refurbished, the Baclay’s Centre opening, and now the New Jersey Devils being purchased not for the team, but because it gives them access to Newark’s Prudential Centre.
In case you think this is just a New York thing, check out what MSG is doing with the old Los Angeles Forum, a building many thought would be torn down.
The first thing to consider is that arenas are costing $300 million dollars at least with many heading towards the $500 to a $1 billion range (depending on land prices). Older arenas like Nassau and The Forum now have tremendous value, if you can call a $100 million renovation a value, in part because modern arenas have become so expensive, they aren’t viable in non-premier markets. Remember that the City of Edmonton is paying a subsidy to the Edmonton Oilers to operate their new arena and Glendale is paying a large subsidy to the Coyotes to manage their arena.
You can change the numbers any way you like. I honestly do not see how a healthy Ichiro Suzuki, drafted as an 18-year-old in the U.S., does not have MORE than 4,000 hits right now in the Major Leagues.
Rose could have said that, of course. I like when Pete Rose acts generous. Maybe he doesn’t always mean it, but generosity suits him. He’s at his best when he’s talking about how great a player Johnny Bench was, what a joy it was to be teammates with Joe Morgan, how much he admires Derek Jeter, how much he loved playing in New York when the fans booed him, the kick he gets out of watching Bryce Harper play the game (Harper has met Rose and, in some ways, patterned his all-out style on Rose). I like the Pete Rose who is brash but openhanded enough to say, “Hey, man, I don’t know if he would have stayed healthy, but if Ichiro starts here, whew, I’m sweating.”
He has nothing to lose by saying that. It’s a free shot at generosity. Rose’s hit record is completely safe. Nobody is contemplating a change in the record books to allow Ichiro’s Japanese hits to count. How much better does it make him look if he simply says, “What an achievement. As someone who knows how hard it is to get hits whether you are, I can tell you that getting 4,000 hits around the world is absolutely fabulous and I applaud him?”
Pete Rose was a marvelous baseball player. He lined singles and doubles all over the park, he scored runs like nobody of his time, he played just about every position, he inflamed the imaginations of millions of baseball fans with the way he played, he was the MVP of perhaps the greatest World Series ever played.
Ichiro Suziuki is a marvelous player. He slashed and blooped and beat out singles all over the park, he stole a lot of bases, he unleashed jaw-dropping throws, he inflamed the imaginations of millions of baseball fans with the way he played and, more than that, opened their minds to the idea of just how good a Japanese baseball player can be.
Rose could have paid tribute to Ichiro without reminding people of his own greatness. But, I guess there’s a part of Pete that is always defending his turf. It might not be the best part of him. But it is certainly a part of him.
Rule 1: It is never a good idea to invoke the name of Hitler to make an unrelated sports-related point — or any unrelated point.
Rule 2: However, if you plan going to bring up Hitler in historical context, see Rule 1.
Rule 3: In certain rare cases, when you are interested in using Hitler to prove a larger truth, see Rule 1.
Rule 4: The one exception to this is … See Rule 1.
Rule 5: Yeah. Rule 1. Always.
Of course if you missed it, check out the nine part documentary that covered the 2011-2012 Volvo Ocean Race.