Big Ten Players Wonder Where They Fit Into a $1 Billion TV Deal
Penn State guard Myles Dread felt “important” and “valuable” when he heard that the Big Ten Conference had signed the richest annual television contract in college sports. The Michigan gymnast Sierra Brooks is looking forward to being on television consistently. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud thinks the money should be shared with the student-athletes who generate it.
The Big Ten’s big deal, which will divide the conference’s sports among Fox, NBC and CBS broadcasts, is worth an average of at least $1 billion a year. Many of the conference’s student-athletes are now watching what comes of the deal, wondering how it will benefit their teams — and whether they will be paid any part of it.
Dread said the contract was an affirmation of the effort of athletes across the conference. “It makes me feel like, you know, the work that I’m putting in, the work that my teammates are putting in, and all the athletes in the Big Ten — it’s worth it,” Dread said. “That people are entertained enough by the hard work that we put in and that they keep up with us.”
For Brooks, the money was an afterthought. The potential television opportunities that could come from the television deal were what excited her. Last year, though Southeastern Conference women’s gymnastics were broadcast on ESPN platforms each Friday night, Big Ten gymnasts appeared on television only sporadically throughout the season and on different days of the week, making it challenging for Brooks’s family to watch her compete.
“The Big Ten has some of the most competitive schools, but people might not necessarily know because they don’t see it,” Brooks said. “I think by having this deal in the future, it’ll definitely help even the playing field and just make the conference better as a whole.”
Television exposure wasn’t a concern for Big Ten football and basketball athletes — they will play in front of millions of viewers regardless. Instead, their focus was on earning money.
Stroud told reporters on Thursday that “giving us even a little something” would go a long way. While he acknowledged that his tuition is covered by his university, “I’m sure it’s not the worth of how much we’re actually worth,” he said.
“My mom has always taught me to know my worth,” he said. “I know I’m not probably worth $1 billion right now, but I’m worth more.”
Xavier Johnson, a point guard on the basketball team at Indiana University, echoed Stroud. Johnson said that players’ getting a “small percentage” of the billion-dollar deal would be fair. “People only come in to watch the players play,” he said.
Brooks supports athletes earning a portion of the multibillion dollar deal. Still, she said, she’s not sure where gymnastics would fit in with sports like football and basketball. “Yes, we can have a piece of that pie, but I think my thing is football and basketball should get it before we do,” Brooks said, “just because when you look at the numbers, those are the athletes that are bringing in all that viewership.”
Player pay is far from a done deal, of course. Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director, told reporters on Thursday that student-athletes are already paid in the “aggregate” in the form of help they receive from trainers, strength coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists and academic counselors.
“Frankly, they’re already getting a piece of the television revenue,” Smith said. “So they actually already get a piece. It might not be directly in their pocket, but it’s an investment in them.”
Though schools may choose to do more in the future for student-athletes, “not in the form of pay-for-play,” he said. “Otherwise, I’m out.”
Even if the Big Ten’s new deal doesn’t result in direct payments to students, some athletes were hopeful that it would increase the opportunities now available to them to capitalize on their name, image and likeness. Brooks thought more TV viewership could help athletes with their visibility, which could increase their opportunities for N.I.L. deals.
Johnson said the overwhelming amount of money in college sports — from N.I.L. deals to billion-dollar TV contracts — is positive. It gives the college game a professional feel, he said, which he enjoys because it helps players prepare for the next level.
“It’s one of the best times to be a college athlete,” he said.