But I didn’t get to everything interesting Stoops said, including the idea of how college athletes pad the coffers of their universities. Collectively, yes. But individually? Hardly ever.
Let’s see. Let’s name individual athletes who made tons of money for their school. Not produced great victories. Made tons of money. Basketball? It’s well-established that college hoops is star-starved. And even the teams that make deep NCAA Tournament runs don’t reap massive amounts of cash — the NCAA Tournament distribution system is flattened, so that the financial benefits of any one win or even one tournament is leveled out.
How about football? Tim Tebow at Florida? Vince Young at Texas? Cam Newton at Auburn?
Did they sell tickets? Not any appreciably. The Gators and the ‘Horns and the Plainsmen, they were packing their stadium before those epic quarterbacks ever sat through an English comp class, and they’re packing them still.
LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Peyton Manning? Sure. Those guys make a huge difference with the bottom line. But does a college athlete?
If so, it comes not at the high level of traditional powers. Not an Oklahoma football or Kansas basketball, not an Alabama football or Kentucky basketball. Those programs are on cruise control, financially. They sell tickets on auto-pilot; they’re on TV if they’re playing Kent State or Southern Cal, doesn’t matter. Sure, they might sell more jerseys if someone wins the Heisman Trophy, but that’s not the kind of money we’re talking about.
Now, you go to Brandon Weeden at OSU? Maybe. Although I still don’t buy it. The Cowboys’ ticket sales have been consistently on the rise for several years, both before and after Weeden. Weeden provided a Big 12 title and a Fiesta Bowl win. That has a ton of residual benefits, but no direct financial bonanza.
Robert Griffin at Baylor? Maybe that’s different. Griffin elevated Baylor football. Maybe the same thing happened with Doug Flutie at Boston College 30 years ago. But the point is, those stories are rare. Very rare.
In fact, jerseys are a great discussion. And wrong-headed, most of the time. The argument that athletes are being exploited because Texas A&M is selling a bunch of No. 2 jerseys (Johnny Manziel’s) is backward. Johnny Football didn’t make the Aggie jersey famous. The Aggie jersey made Johnny Football famous.
Stoops told The Sporting News close to that very thing.
“Sam Bradford was one of the most humble and grounded players I’ve ever been around; he got it,” Stoops told TSN. “But I even told him, what makes you think those fans in the stands are wearing No.14 for you? Who says it’s not an old Josh Heupel jersey? I tell our guys all the time. It could be you — or it could be anyone else. Those 70,000 fans in the stadium are cheering and buying tickets to see Oklahoma.”
Harsh, but true. You go to Oklahoma, or Southern Cal, or Texas, or Bama, or Florida, or wherever, because of that jersey. Then when you excel, that jersey is some kind of prison, holding you back? I don’t buy it.
You can’t sign on to play for a great tradition, a crazy fan base, a place with fabulous facilities, then later claim that tradition is wronging you in some way. No, Heisman winner and/or superstar. That tradition made you famous.