Mar 11, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

Today's word count: 1,822 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🎓 Inside the world of college sports financing
Adapted from NCAA Research; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

At the more than 1,100 schools across all three NCAA divisions, roughly $18.1 billion was spent on athletics in 2018.

  • Why it matters: The total revenue generated was $10.3 billion, leaving nearly $8 billion that had to be subsidized by other sources — $6.5 billion from institutional and government support and $1.5 billion from student fees.

By the numbers:

  • Revenues: The five largest sources of athletics revenue were direct institutional or government support (35%), media contracts (18%), donor contributions (16%), ticket sales (11%) and student fees (8%).
  • Expenses: The five largest sources of expenses were student aid (19%), coach compensation (15%), facilities (17%), administration compensation (16%) and game and travel (11%).

Between the lines: Schools are not required to disclose how much of their tuition revenue goes towards athletics (see above: student fees), leaving students in the dark about how much they're being charged and where that money is going.

  • State funding is often restricted for educational use, so four out of five of the 230 D-I public universities charge students a fee to finance sports teams, according to an NBC News investigation, with some charging in excess of $2,000 annually.

The big picture: Universities have long argued that investing in athletics pays off in the long run because successful teams help raise the school's national profile, boost the number of applications and lure major donors.

  • But as tuition costs continue to rise and a generation of students grows increasingly critical of where their money is being spent, that ideology could be under threat.

The last word:

"At some point, the students have to start asking, 'Why am I paying $1,000 to support this football team when I have no interest in going?'"
— Allen Sanderson, University of Chicago economics professor

📊 Where you stand: According to yesterday's reader poll, 75% of you do not think tuition paid by non-athletes at D-I schools should be used to underwrite sports costs. (Yet, as we see above, that's exactly what happens at four out of five public schools.)

2. ⚽️ No fans allowed for Neymar's big night

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

When Neymar left Barcelona in 2017 and signed a record-breaking deal with Paris Saint-Germain, he did so because he wanted to step out of Lionel Messi's shadow and, ultimately, be recognized as the best player in the world.

  • That hasn't happened: In his first year with PSG, Neymar finished third in the Ballon d'Or voting behind Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. But a year later he was down to 12th, and last year he wasn't even nominated.
  • "By his own criteria ... Neymar's move to Paris can only be regarded as a spectacular failure," writes NYT's Rory Smith. "The player who was supposed to be the heir for Messi's crown ... now seems to trail a whole new generation, spearheaded by [teammate Kylian] Mbappé."

Which brings us to today...

Neymar can rewrite his legacy by leading PSG to a Champions League title this season, but with his team trailing Borussia Dortmund after losing the first leg of their round of 16 matchup, 2-1, he'll need to be at his best tonight in Paris.

  • The twist: The game will be played without spectators due to the coronavirus outbreak — a bizarre environment for such a monumental evening.

My take: There's something deeply sad yet oddly intriguing about a generational talent, with so much on the line, playing in an empty stadium devoid of fans.

  • Perhaps Neymar will be reminded of his days as a young boy, kicking the ball around with his friends on the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, far from the global spotlight.
  • Or maybe he'll struggle without the roar of the crowd or the chanting of his name — a constant reminder that he is adored by millions and capable of spectacular things.

The bottom line: From a media perspective, sports are about narratives — every athlete's career tells a story. From a fandom perspective, sports are about the communal experience of going to a game — of sitting in the stands, high-fiving strangers and getting swept up in the excitement.

  • For one of those to be so present today, while the other is completely nonexistent, is surreal.

📺 Today's slate:

ICYMI ... Red Bull Leipzig beat Tottenham 4-0 on aggregate and Atalanta beat Valencia 8-4 on aggregate, as both clubs advanced to the quarterfinals.

3. 😷 Ivy League cancels tournaments

A Harvard student carrying moving boxes. Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Ivy League canceled its men's and women's basketball tournaments scheduled for this weekend, citing concerns over the coronavirus.

  • Regular-season champions Yale (men) and Princeton (women) will earn the conference's automatic NCAA bids, which is heartbreaking for the other teams.
  • Consider the Harvard men, who went 2-0 against Yale during the regular season but will not get the chance to knock them off as the No. 2 seed in the tournament, which they were supposed to host.
  • Consider Penn senior Devon Goodman, who will not get the chance to reach the 1,000-point milestone and finish his college career stuck at 998.

What they're saying:

  • Penn's A.J. Brodeur: "The people running the Ivy League, [they] don't understand the repercussions of how this affects the athletes, what they were working for, what they would do for one more game."
  • Harvard's Bryce Aiken: "Horrible, horrible, horrible decision and total disregard for the players and teams that have put their hearts into this season. This is wrong on so many levels."
  • The people: A petition to reinstate the tournament has been signed by nearly 10,000 people.


  • Other conferences: The MAC and Big West will stage their tournaments without fans.
  • March Madness: The men's and women's NCAA tournaments are still a go, but administrators say one concern isn't the coronavirus as much as it's the potential lawsuits if someone got sick. "This is complicated."
  • Seattle ban: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has banned public gatherings of more than 250 people, which could impact the Seattle Dragons' XFL game this weekend, the Sounders' MLS game next weekend and the Mariners' home-opener on March 26.
  • MLB Opening Day: "If a team can't play ball in front of fans at home because of the virus, the league's first preference likely would be to switch games to the visiting team's stadium if possible." (AP)

Go deeper: What happens when Harvard closes (Axios)

4. 🏈 J.C. Tretter elected president of NFLPA

Photo: Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Browns center J.C. Tretter was elected NFL Players Association president during union meetings yesterday, beating out Buccaneers linebacker Sam Acho and Giants safety Michael Thomas.

  • Tretter replaces Eric Winston, the former offensive lineman who held the job for six years but had to step aside because he wasn't on an NFL roster last year.


  • Age: 29
  • Hometown: Akron, New York
  • College: Cornell (Degree: Labor relations)
  • NFL: A fourth-round pick in 2013, Tretter has been the Browns' starting center for the past three seasons and signed a three-year, $32.5 million contract last offseason.

What to watch: The election comes at a turbulent time for the NFLPA, which has plunged into a state of disarray in recent weeks thanks to the public disagreement over the proposed CBA, which includes a 17-game schedule starting in 2021 at the earliest.

  • The full union membership (~2,000 players) has until midnight on Saturday to vote on the proposed 10-year deal that most of them will play under for the rest of their careers. If it receives a simple majority (50% plus one vote), it will pass.
  • "The first thing Tretter needs to do is develop a strategy for getting leadership on the same page," writes Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio. "It's critical that a union present a united front. This union recently hasn't, which sets them up to be exploited if/when bargaining resumes."
5. 📸 Tahiti will host surfing at 2024 Paris Games

With surfing coming to the Olympics in 2020, and the Olympics heading to Paris in 2024, organizers had to look elsewhere to hold the surfing competition.

  • The winner: Teahupo'o, Tahiti, which is part of French Polynesia and home to one of the most dangerous waves in the world. How dangerous? Teahupo'o roughly translates to "wall of skulls."
  • So, while their fellow Olympians are living and competing in Paris four years from now, the surfers will be 10,000 miles away on the beach.

Photos from the 2019 Tahiti Pro...

Photo: Kelly Cestari/WSL via Getty Images
Photo: Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty Images
Photo: Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty Images
6. 📊 By the numbers

Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images

  • 🏟 41,477 fans: College football attendance hit a 24-year low in 2019, with FBS teams averaging just 41,477 fans per game. That's also the fourth-lowest average nationally since 1982.
  • 🏈 4 draft picks: The NFL awarded its annual spread of compensatory draft picks yesterday to teams negatively affected by last year's free agency. The Patriots received a league-high four — two in the third round, two in the sixth — after losing players like Trent Brown and Cordarrelle Patterson.
  • 🏁 $17.8 million: Kyle Busch was the highest-paid NASCAR driver last season based on salary, winnings, endorsements and licensing, earning an estimated $17.8 million, per Forbes. Jimmie Johnson was a close second ($17.6 million), followed by Denny Hamlin ($14.6 million) and Kevin Harvick ($12.2 million).
7. March 11, 1892: 🏀 First public basketball game
Dr. James Naismith (center, wearing jacket) and his players. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

128 years ago today, the first public basketball game was played between the students and faculty of Springfield (Mass.) College where the sports' inventor, Dr. James Naismith, taught at the time.

  • In a romp, the students bested the teachers 5-1 in front of a crowd of 200.

Fun fact: The faculty's only basket was scored by Amos Alonzo Stagg, who had been selected to the first College Football All-America Team three years earlier at Yale.

  • Stagg went on to become a legendary college football coach, winning two national championships at the University of Chicago in 1905 and 1913 and inventing the Statue of Liberty play.
  • He also helped popularize basketball as a five-player sport, which allowed his 10 (later 11) man football team to play in the winter to stay in shape. For this, Stagg was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural 1959 class.

The vault: A newspaper clipping from the following day

8. The Ocho: 🚨 Gronk, the wrestler
Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Rob Gronkowski is reportedly "deep in talks with WWE" and close to finalizing a deal with the pro wrestling promotion, though its unclear how he would be used.

  • What they're saying: "I think he'd be a great WWE superstar," said John Cena in 2018 just before Gronkowski retired from football. "He's got this unbelievable energy and infectious electricity about him. I think if he wants to take off the pads and step in the arena ... he'll feel right at home."
  • What to watch: There are rumblings that Gronk could appear on "WWE Smackdown" next Friday in New Orleans.
9. 🏀 College hoops trivia
Photo: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Hofstra's men's basketball team beat Northeastern in the Colonial Athletic title game last night, earning an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2001.

  • Question: Who was their coach in 2001?
  • Hint: Six-time Big East Coach of the Year.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 📚 Good reads

Illustration:Rebecca Zisser/Axios

✍️ How the coronavirus could change American sportswriting forever (Bryan Curtis, The Ringer)

"The ability to report inside a locker room is nothing short of a miracle of American sportswriting. ... Sportswriters realize the precariousness of the arrangement. That's why they're scared shitless that the coronavirus will be the means by which it's taken away forever."

⚽️ How Britain's best soccer players survived a first World War prison camp (Paul Brown, Medium)

"In 1914 ... several of Britain's most famous soccer players were imprisoned in a brutal internment camp near Berlin. [There] the prisoners found purpose and salvation through the Ruhleben Football Association, which organized soccer matches that were played and watched by thousands."

⚾️ Two hours with Scott Boras: Baseball's No. 1 agent (Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune)

"Boras, 67, is uniquely suited for his job, a line-drive hitter who reached Double A and earned both a law degree and a doctorate in pharmacy. To fit in with his minor-league teammates during long bus rides, he would cover the shell of his textbooks with a nudie mag."
Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Naismith's mustache" Baker

Trivia answer: Current Villanova head coach Jay Wright