Earlier in the semester, my Business of Sports class went on a field trip to the Euroleague Basketball Headquarters in downtown Barcelona. Euroleague is the second most popular league in Europe.
But that’s like saying Xzibit is the second best rapper from Detroit. It’s Marshall Mathers and everyone else. In Europe, soccer sits tall on the throne.
The league has made some strides, but the profit margins remain miniscule. Last year, the Euroleague budget revenues equaled 27.3 million euros (or approximately 36 million dollars). Meanwhile, the NBA’s yearly revenue is estimated at 5 billion dollars.
Founded in 1958 under the jurisdiction of FIBA (International Basketball Federation), Euroleague underwent a radical revolution in 2001. Frustrated with FIBA’s leadership, profit distribution and media coverage, the team owners left FIBA and made their own league.
Now the team owners vote on what actions the commissioner should enact. They literally own the league.
While it is impossible to keep up with the latest rule changes as a fan—the regular season and playoff formatting have changed six times in the past twelve years—it is gratifying to realize that the owners are employing a hands-on approach to improve the league.
Euroleague has begun to find its niche, growing an estimated 11.6 percent last year according to the league website. Also, the league recently signed a deal to showcase 14 teams in the renowned videogame NBA 2K14.
In the United States, the sports leagues have had trouble making institutional or rule changes, using excuses like “well that’s the way it has always been done.”
Take the NCAA. It took almost two decades to alter—not fix—a BCS system that no one supports and that determines its most popular title games through an arcane computerized formula.
The NCAA once served as a moral middleman that helped develop student-athletes, improve the recognition of universities and provide a community for fans and alums.
But with increasing returns in the sports business model, mom and pop’s college sports are long gone.
The NCAA’s goals have shifted to profit maximization, while continuing to use the same archaic rule book.
These days, the NCAA takes criticism from the media and fans for its greed and its arbitrary—and arguably corrupt—rulings.
Which raises the question, why are these men in suits still deciding the plight of 20 year olds?
How do these Indianapolis businessmen know what is best for student-athletes in Winston-Salem?
NCAA President Mark Emmert says, “The money we generate buys services that support those students. If we can keep the athletic programs financially healthy, they can create more opportunities for students to participate in athletics.”
In reality, the NCAA legally exploits young adults’ free labor for billion dollar annual profits—the Ed O’Bannon antitrust lawsuit is still ongoing. The NCAA uses the players' marketability for profits. Earlier this year, turmoil ensued after realizing that the NCAA sells Johnny Manziel’s jersey, and doesn’t share a dime with the former Heisman Trophy winner.
All of this negative press reflects poorly on the university's motivations and its goals for student-athletes.
So what is stopping universities from breaking away from the NCAA to create a new collegiate athletic structure? Take a page from the Euroleague and start a self-run, self-enforced, self-sufficient means of competition.
Imagine a new college sports model led by the universities where “the watchdog” NCAA ceases to exist. Instead, the university presidents and athletic directors determine eligibility rules and regulations collectively.
Universities can still maximize profit, while taking out the middle man.
Collegiate sports will maintain its nonprofit status, but instead of the NCAA allocating profits, the revenues are invested back into the universities and student-athletes.
Dare I say, some of the extra dough can go towards stipends for student-athletes?
If the top Division 1 teams act as a coalition, they will thrive without the NCAA’s embattled credibility. Collectively, the universities can dethrone the NCAA.
Without adjustments, the revolution of sports business is at a collision course with the free labor of student-athletes.
Student-athletes look at Europe where top amateur athletes declare their professional status-- sometimes at 15 or 16-- and immediately receive a living salary.
Because of increased competition, media attention and money at stake, college sports are at a crossroads.
Without major reforms, the collegiate sports that we find unique and sacred are doomed.
Don't forget, in Europe college sports don't exist.
Recent WFU Graduates in Euroleague:
CJ Harris (Class of 2013): The hometown favorite is the starting shooting guard for MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in the German Bundesliga Basketball League, Germany’s best league (4-4). Harris has brought his shooting touch with him, making 27-30 free throws and an unfathomable 15-23 (65%) from behind the arc, while still shooting 49 percent from the field (20-41). Harris is also the team’s scoring leader at 16 points per game. No surprise that CJ’s game has translated well in one of Europe’s top leagues.
Nikita Mescheriakov (2012): Remember him? There are no moves I tried more on the court than his iconic pump fake, one dribble left, fake pass and attempted posterize than Nikita’s go-to. Mescheriakov is playing in his home country of Belarus for Tsmoki-Minsk (2-5), the countries capital. He has averaged six minutes per game in three games. He posted a strong season in Italy last year for AcegasAps Trieste.
Ty Walker (2012): Last season, the lanky center played for France’s Limoges and Kotwica in Poland. He has not played in the 2013-2014 season.