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Moving Football Down is wrong headed thinking and will cost the University Money

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For a good long time the editorial arm of the Buffalo news has been pushing a narrative. If UB moved football down to FCS a golden age of UB athletics may result. It's wrong headed thinking and I will not let a single instance of it go unchallenged. -- Tim

Someone who works in College Athletics whom I respect recently told me why Allen Greene would give the Buffalo News so much access this early in his tenure. In a roundabout way they told me even if you know a hit job is coming it's better to play nice because they are going to run you down either way.

I'm not sure I could do it and that's why I don't work in a field in the sights of the media. But Allen Greene can manage to suffer such people with a straight face so he sat down with the Bucky Gleason.

Gleason's attacks on Greene's predecessor, Danny White, were predictable, shallow, and uninformed romps through his understanding of College Athletics. Good for Greene, but the results of the interview are yet another foolish "downgrade" call by The Buffalo News.

And so it begins.

First the really, really good news!

Greene has no intention to make major changes to the path his friend and predecessor, Danny White, set over the previous three years. UB will remain in the Mid-American Conference for the foreseeable future. Greene believes consistently fielding a winning team will generate fan interest and solve all problems.

Greene may or may not do some things a tad differently than Danny White but they are both trying to take the team in the same direction. As a UB fan that makes me happy. White, like all men, made some mistakes here or there but his track record speaks for itself. More sales, more donations, more conference championships and bigger dreams.

When I spoke to Danny White shortly after he took the helm at UB I brought up conference realignment. His position was that he would take an upgrade if he could get it. But he was clear that he believed UB needed to grow into a role where that invite comes.

Greene has the same belief.

"It doesn’t make sense for us to even talk about moving conferences," Greene said. "We’re happy where we are. We like the Mid-American Conference. We need to be successful. We need to slowly get to a point where we can say, ‘We’re dominating this conference.’ That’s when we start to look at other things."

If you are new to the Buffalo News critiques here at Bull Run then I should clear something up.

When I say "Conference realignment," I, like most sane people, am talking about UB doing what Temple did. Getting into the American Conference which is a half step up from the MAC and is geographically laid out where UB Alumni live.

When the Buffalo News says "Conference realignment" they mean moving football out of the Bowl Subdivision and moving hoops to a better conference than the MAC.

We will get to why lowering football to move for hoops is stupid in a bit, for now lets continue with Bucky's favorite topic. NYBI.

Greene hasn’t made a decision on whether to continue the New York Bulls Initiative, which raised money beyond the region but irritated many who believed UB’s marketing campaign came at the expense of Buffalo. He helped create and execute the strategy with hopes of raising awareness to the athletic program.

In theory, it made sense.

To many, it’s nonsense.

One problem with NYBI, other than being clumsy, is that it suggests people should designate Buffalo athletics as the pre-eminent program in New York. The reality is it’s a long way from joining Penn State, Michigan State, Ohio State or even a private school such as Syracuse. UB looked like it was trying to become something it’s not.

Once again Greene indicates he will thoughtfully try to place UB in its proper role as the largest state school in NY. The school has been there academically for decades but athletically it's a slow climb. While UB is "a long way from joining Penn State" they are way closer than the school was 10 years ago.

Remember 2005? The Bulls had been in the MAC for six years and had won just seven conference games. Warde Manuel came in, he had a vision, took UB Athletics seriously and the team won a MAC Championship three years later, winning a total of 10 conference games between 2008 and 2009.

Mandatory cheap shot at Danny White..

During a 45-minute interview this week in his office, Greene came across as friendly and determined to succeed. He’s definitely his own man. Unlike his predecessor, there was no sense he was looking for his next job 15 minutes after accepting this one. By all accounts, he’s a charming person with an open mind and good intentions.

Cheap shot accomplished.

White was not charming but the few times I spoke with him he was not off putting. White has a bit of frankness in him that does not sit well with midwesterners. Buffalo is not the midwest but it's pretty close. White stayed at UB for three and a half years. During that time he did not actively seek any other position.

Word is that UCF went to him, not the other way around. Danny White had a chance to work with people who he knew and respected and get a pretty big pay raise in the process. Allen Greene is a nice guy but I'm pretty sure if and when that opportunity comes for him he will move on as well.

Nothing against Greene or White but that's life.

Pretending pro/college sport challenges are unique to Buffalo:

For better or worse, this is a different region when it comes to college football. People here don’t have anywhere near the passion for the college game as they do for the Bills and the NFL. It has been that way for generations. Right or wrong, it’s not going to change so long as the Bills remain in town.

People in Philadelphia have more passion for the Eagles than the Temple Owls. People in Boston love the Pats more than Boston College. People in northern New Jersey love the Giants more than Rutgers. People in Baltimore and DC love the Ravens and Redskins more than the Terps. And people in Chicago are more about the Bears than Northwestern.

Does anyone else see a pattern here?

I don't believe that the City of Buffalo will ever be as passionate about the Bulls as the Bills. But to say that the City is incapable of putting 30K in UB stadium and supporting the Bulls is wrong. Besides *if* Buffalo can't drive the Bulls then you are making the case for NYBI.

By the way, in a roundabout way Danny White said the same thing when he came to Buffalo. It's not about getting more love than the Bills, it's about working in the region to raise UB's profile.

Remember, the Bills to needed regionalize the franchise to survive in the NFL. Their fan base extends to Syracuse and Erie, Pa., and beyond. They reached deep into Canada and captured fans between Buffalo and Toronto. UB’s fan base looks like a semicircle that surrounds Erie County and stops at Lake Erie on one side and the Canadian border on the other.

*EVERY* NFL's fan base is regional. Do you really think that "Pittsburgh" is not drawing fans from West Virginia? Do you know how many Green Bay fans live here with me in the Twin Cities?

The Bills "region" is one of the smaller ones in the NFL.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying UB should drop football. I am saying UB should be realistic, find a smaller conference for football and a better conference for basketball, and stop unnecessary spending.

This is where the stupid gets laid on pretty thick. Bucky has no idea how college athletics work and it shows. The MAC is the smallest FBS conference in UB's footprint. Only the Sun Belt and Conference-USA are of smaller stature and those two conferences are located far from Buffalo. It doesn't get much more budget-friendly than your longest trip being Buffalo to Chicago and your average trip being Buffalo to somewhere in Ohio.

FCS Maps on the left, MAC map on the right - Both maps are slightly dated but they get the point across

In effect what Bucky is saying is that we should drop to the Football Championship level (The AAA Baseball of College Athletics) rather than be a small market team in the bigs. By that logic the Bills should join the CFL.

What makes this argument even more laughably stupid is that the MAC, our current conference, is nice and compact. UB saves a ton on their travel budgets for the "non revenue" teams while only football and hoops regularly fly to conference games. We would spend more on travel in any FCS conference outside of maybe the Patriot League.

So UB's spending on travel goes up if we leave the MAC.

Then let's talk revenue.

I'll set up Bucky's dream scenario and say that UB could swing the A10 conference for everything and the Colonial Athletic Association for football. Like Rhode Island.

Revenues MAC - UB CAA/A10 - RI Difference
College Football Playoffs $1,200,000.00 $8,333.33 $(1,191,666.67)
NCAA Tourney Units $70,500.00 $116,666.67 $46,166.67
Rights / Licensing $3,397,218.00 $2,092,509 $(1,304,709.00)
Totals $4,667,718.00 $2,217,509.00 $(2,450,209.00)

Right away UB is throwing away nearly two and a half million dollars in revenue. And before we talk cost savings please consider that in the multi-bid A10 the Rams of Rhode Island have not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1999. Being in the A10 is no guarantee you make the post season. Just ask UMass.

Some schools in the A10/CAA spend less than UB, and some spend more. The ones that spend more are the schools that win a lot. The ones that spend less lose a lot.

And there is always the intangible benefit of paycheck games. Like them or not you have to appreciate the fact that one game against Ohio State could pay our coaching salaries for a season. The Big 10 does not play FCS schools, I expect you will see other P5 conferences follow suit.

Paycheck games are so revenue rich that it's basically how UMass plans to go forward as an FBS independent.

So let's throw a million dollars more on lost revenue. We are up to losing three and a half million in revenue by living the FCS dream.

Enter the No True Scotsman

Allow me to say it again: Buffalo is not a dot on the map or a snowy place along Lake Erie. It’s a state of mind that comes natural to people who were raised here or lived here for a long time. It can be mystifying to people like White and Greene and other newcomers who believe what worked elsewhere will translate here. University at Buffalo football is not the problem. Buffalo, N.Y., is the problem. In other words, it’s not them. It’s us.

This goes out to everyone, not just Bucky: Please stop pretending you provide the litmus for what a Buffalonian is. The people of Buffalo are not "simple townfolk" scared of progress and tall buildings. They are complex, they are diverse, and they are wonderful.

Irony

Take Khalil Mack, for example. He’s headed for the Pro Bowl this year and could be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He had a terrific career at UB but played in relative obscurity until he dominated against Ohio State his senior year. No matter how well he played for the Bulls, people here barely knew him.

If only there was some paper that employed people to write sports editorials. They could have written about how good Mack was back in 2011 and 2012. Editorials about UB's future NFL star being worth seeing might have helped instead of fashion critiques about the font size of Buffalo on UB's uniforms.

Yes, the Buffalo News turned a UB preseason article into a gripe about the "New York" patch. When they could have said that the Schools Stud Linebacker was worth a trip to Amherst.

So Bucky, you have only yourself to blame if Mack played "in relative obscurity". You were ignorant about Mack or you decided that slapping Danny White around was a better use of your time. Either way you were equally useless when it came to covering Buffalo sports.

Fact Twisting

UB has been in the MAC for 17 years. Their crowds for football aren’t much different than they were in 1999, when they jumped to Division I. Some years have been better than others, but all along, the community has generally not been interested. At times, their actual attendance for basketball was better than their attendance for football.

This season UB had a miserable attendance record. Too many mid week games and too many really bad weather days killed the school. But in 2013 and 2014 they were hovering around 22K ticket sales per game. In 2003 the Bulls averaged 12,000. In 2005 Buffalo averaged under 9,000.

This season, as bad as it was, saw an average of 18 thousand plus tickets sold per game.

18,500 is bigger than 12,000 by 50%.

Attendance wasn't great for basketball either, averaging under 3,000 per game in more years than not from 2000-2010. I'd honestly be quite surprised if there were more than four basketball games that outdrew a football game in the same season. That's not "at times," but rather "on rare occasions."

Ignorance

If you talk to people who are entrenched in college athletics and understand Western New York – and I have – they fear television money drying up. Many predict a market adjustment in which the gap between Power Five conferences and mid-level leagues like the MAC, substantial already, will widen in the coming years.

The deal the MAC just signed with ESPN is good for more than a decade. Even *IF* the money is going to dwindle in college athletics UB has a decade to prepare for it.

Repeat a lie enough times

The money saved by playing at the FCS level (previously known as Division I-AA), with other schools such as Albany and Stony Brook, should be redistributed within the athletic department. UB has the potential to corner the local college basketball market by playing in a better league.

Given our natural resources, it would be nice if UB had a D-I hockey program. UB could use a new on-campus baseball facility rather than playing behind Northtowns Center at Amherst. There’s also demand for lacrosse and men’s volleyball teams. None can be addressed when they’re dumping millions of dollars into football.

I've already showed how such a move will cost UB 2.5 million dollars in revenue (or more if you count pay day games) I also don't believe there is a chance in hell that St. Bonaventure would be ok with UB joining the A10.

FCS programs like Stony Brook and Albany typically spend about a million or so less per season than UB. Most of that money comes from reduced scholarships and coaching salaries. UB already pays their coaches near the low end of FBS money and I'm not sure dumping 20 football scholarships is really going to "make" UB a basketball powerhouse.

Unless someone steps up with a 50 million dollar ear marked donation UB can not start up a hockey program. As a sport its nearly as expensive as football. UB would also have to deal with Niagara and Canisius *AND* the Sabres.

It's strange to think a UB hockey program would do better against the Sabres than football does against the Bills.

After 10 years of trying our hand at hockey would you be finger waving at UB for not understanding Buffalo is Sabres country and not college hockey?

As to baseball, it's in the capital plan to add an on-campus stadium. If you had read the plan, or Bull Run, you would know that. But baseball is a non starter for northern schools. The season goes from February to May. As you can imagine the first two months are almost exclusively played on the road.

Short Sweet and To the Point

I love this Allen Greene quote:

"We’re an old Big 10 university with a brand new Florida Gulf Coast athletics department. It’s really what we are. We sell academics at our university, but the brand and the tradition is not there. And we’re in a town that is a pro sports town. I’m going to flip them."

So no, Bucky. Nobody thinks UB is Penn State. But academically we are as close to a flagship as NY has. It's time to act that way for athletics.

Now if only certain folks on the Buffalo News editorial beat stopped being an active opponent.