MONEY Sports

3 Career Lessons From Kevin Durant’s Blockbuster Nike Deal

Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant (#35) of the Oklahoma City Thunder backs up to the basket against the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Chesapeake Arena on May 31, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Richard Rowe—NBAE/Getty Images

On his way to signing a blockbuster deal with Nike, Kevin Durant faced some of the same decisions as anyone weighing compensation offers. Here's what you can learn from his choice.

On Sunday, Kevin Durant celebrated Labor Day weekend by signing a monster endorsement deal with Nike. Various news outlets report the contract could be worth anywhere from $265 million to $300 million over the next decade, and may span 20 years. That’s a lot of money, but Durant could very well be worth it. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Oklahoma City Thunder star’s shoes are a top seller for Nike, second only to four-time MVP LeBron James’s own line of footwear.

More noteworthy than the deal’s price alone, however, is that Durant had to make a choice between suitors: Sportswear maker Under Armour also offered him a similarly rich compensation package that Nike—which had the option of matching any competitor’s offer—was reportedly forced to top.

Sure, the numbers are astronomical, but Durant faced some of the same issues as ordinary people weighing compensation offers. Here’s what you can learn from his decision to stick with the swoosh.

Whether to Accept Cash vs. Stock

The most striking difference between Nike and Under Armour’s respective offers is that, according to ESPN, 10% of UA’s deal was in company stock. Even assuming the lowest estimates of Durant’s deal are true, that would mean Under Armour offered around $26.5 million worth of company shares. UA stock has more than doubled since January 2013 and is up about 90% year-to-date. If Under Armour grows as much in the next half-decade as it did in the previous one, Durant could have earned $300 million in in 5 years from stock alone.

Viewed that way, it seems like the the Thunder player may have picked the wrong offer—but the more lucrative deal also had outsized risk. There is no guarantee that Under Armour will continue its recent growth surge. Worse, Under Armour could falter, and Durant’s association with the company could end up hurting his brand. Nike might not offer the same upside as its competitor, but the shoe giant might be a more stable bet in the long run.

What you can learn: Even if you’re not an NBA superstar, you may face a similar decision, both when it comes to where you work and how you structure your compensation. Do you want to work for a startup that could be worth billions —or fail—in a few years, or join with an established corporation that is slower growing but more secure? Is it better to get a bigger paycheck or take some compensation in stock options?

Ultimately, it depends on how much risk you’re comfortable with taking. In Durant’s case, he chose the conservative approach instead of risking it for the highest potential returns.

Join the Leader or Be a Big Fish in a Small Pond?

Had Durant signed with Under Armour, he wouldn’t just get a fat paycheck—he would have become the virtual face of the company. Under Armour’s only major basketball endorsement is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Curry’s a good player, but he doesn’t have the star power of Durant. Had the OKC forward jumped ship to a new brand, his success would be Under Armour’s success, and vice versa.

That’s an enticing prospect, but, once again, Under Armour’s offer carries more uncertainty. Being the face of a brand sounds nice, it would also put a lot of pressure on Durant to carry the Under Armour torch. Joining Nike, on the other hand, means being associated with the company’s other big names: Jordan, James, and Kobe. With colleagues like those, Durant doesn’t have to worry about carrying all of the load.

What you can learn: That same thinking applies to your career too. Being “the man” or “the woman” can be exhilarating—or exhausting. Sometimes it’s more enjoyable to join a larger organization with other equally skilled colleagues, even if that means less personal prestige.

Play Prospective Employers Off Each Other

Durant also benefited from a bidding war. Before Under Armour entered the picture, Nike was offering Durant roughly $20 million per year. Once Under Armour entered the game, that number shot up to potentially $30 million annually for the first 10 years, and another $50 million over the following decade.

What you can learn: As Durant found, having multiple offers rarely fails to increase your value. If another employer is dangling a higher salary, ask your boss to match it. At worst, you could take the higher offer, and at best, both companies will compete, boosting your pay even further. It’s a game you should play carefully, so you don’t create bad feelings with either your current employer or potential boss.

TIME Big Picture

San Francisco 49ers Go Long on STEM Education at Levi’s Stadium

In 2010, when the San Francisco 49ers’ brain trust was drawing up the plans for what is now Levi’s Stadium, they went to one of the tallest buildings in the area and looked out over Silicon Valley.

According to Joanne Pasternack, director of community relations and the 49ers Foundation, these executives could see Google, Intel, Apple, HP, Facebook and many of the leading tech companies in the world laid out right in front of them.

It was at that point that they made the commitment to somehow use the new stadium to help create tech leaders of tomorrow. As one of the 49ers execs told me recently, they wanted to “help develop the people who will someday engineer and create greater features for Levi’s Stadium and develop innovative technologies that can impact the planet in the future.”

Educational Roots

The 49ers have had a long history of supporting education. “Our family has always been interested in education,” said Dr. John York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers. “My father-in-law, Ed DeBartolo, Sr., always felt that if you could give people an education, they can make a way for themselves and their lives. And the 49ers Foundation’s mission has been to keep kids safe, on track and in school.”

“My mother was a school teacher, my father was the son of Italian immigrants,” said Denise DeBartolo York, co-chairman of the San Francisco 49ers. “They always thought that education could level the playing field with at-risk students that were disadvantaged. Once you enable them to get an education, it’s an even playing field.” Mrs. York also told me that she and her husband, Dr. York, have contributed significantly to various underprivileged children’s causes and Title I school initiatives, as well as programs for at-risk kids.

The 49ers organization’s philanthropic contributions — much of which is focused on education — are at least $3.3 million per year. For years, the organization has supported what is called the 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, CA. According to the academy’s website:

The San Francisco 49ers Academy was established through a partnership with Communities in Schools (CIS) in 1996. CIS started as a small grassroots movement led by Bill Milliken, one of the nation’s foremost pioneers in the movement to help young people graduate from high school and go onto rewarding careers. The 49ers Academy is a unique partnership – a public school, supported by a private non-profit agency. The 49ers are the major underwriter of this program.

Cultivating STEM

However, what they are doing in STEM education at Levi’s Stadium itself is amazing. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and is a dedicated educational program to get kids interested in these disciplines, eventually guiding them into related career endeavors.

“On and off the field, talent alone will not lead to success,” said Dr. York. “The game changer for promising future leaders is to provide a stimulating environment where their natural talent and drive will be fed by motivating mentors, meaningful activities and academic enrichment. The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute’s vision is to be a leader in STEM education, preparing and inspiring talented learners to meet the challenges of the global society through innovation, collaboration and creative problem solving.”

Budding Brains

The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute program will bring 20,000 students to Levi’s Stadium for daylong programs that tie sports and education around the STEM focus. Each day during the school year, 60 kids from one of the various schools in the Bay Area are brought to Levi’s Stadium in one of the 49ers’ official team buses. They are then broken up into three different groups of 20 each to rotate through three distinct activities.

The first activity features a full tour of the stadium, focusing on the engineering involved with creating a stadium. It shows off the green aspects of the stadium, including a visit to the garden on the roof as well as a look at the solar panels and how they’re used to create energy. The tour also demonstrates how clean technology is used to irrigate the field in order to care for the grass and turf. The kids also get to see the visiting team’s locker room, the field and many of the public areas of the stadium.

The second activity takes place in the new 49ers Museum and includes lessons using various games and interactive screens. Students learn how engineering and math are used to create 49ers football equipment, and how physics is applied to things like passing, kicking and running. The day I was there, they also included a section on careers in math and science. By the way, a trip to the 49ers Museum is highly recommended. It’s one of the best sports museums in the U.S. They use Sony Xperia tablets and various technologies to really enhance the overall museum experience — and for those of us in the Bay Area, it evokes some great memories of five 49ers Super Bowl wins.

The third activity takes place in an actual high-tech classroom that’s built into the new 49ers Museum. This classroom has multiple screens as well as half a dozen touch-based video worktables created by Cortina Productions. They serve as interactive teaching tools that the students can use to do various projects.

49ers STEM
Students receive instructions from teacher Matt Van Dixon while sitting at interactive video tables made by Cortina Productions at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

I was privileged to attend the inaugural class where they were studying the engineering principles of making a football. Using all of the materials needed to make a football, each group got to assemble a football from scratch, sew it up, inflate it and then test it in a special kicking area where the students could see how each ball performed based on how well they created it.

49ers STEM
Denise DeBartolo York helps students assemble a football at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers
49ers STEM
Students assemble a football at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

Many of the 49ers star players become the students’ tutors and team captains via video at each workstation table, giving instructions and encouragement for each project.

The interactive lessons vary: One class might teach how a helmet is engineered. Another might be on the physics of throwing a ball, explaining how a physical object like a football deals with airflow, throwing mechanics and force, and how each impacts the direction and length of a throw. There are even lessons on engineering your plate, including nutrition facts and a fitness class that uses the 49ers’ training camp as an example.

The class on applied mathematics explains angular attack and game geometry as well as teaching about statistics, using the Super Bowl and its various Roman-numeral numbering schemes as part of the lesson plan. All lessons are designed to emphasize how math, science, technology and engineering are used in everything from building a stadium to creating sports equipment to the math and physics that go into playing the game of football.

The teacher of the class is Matt Van Dixon, who is the education program manger for the 49ers Museum. Matt is one of the most dynamic teachers I have ever observed, his teaching style grabbing the kids from the beginning of each class. I was extremely impressed with how he developed the lesson plans to integrate the role of engineering and math into all of the sports examples. He and his team created various simulations to make the class interactive and highly entertaining. I asked a couple of kids who were in this inaugural class what they thought about the program and each gave it a huge thumbs up.

49ers STEM
Matt Van Dixon instructs students at the 49ers STEM Leadership Institute at Levi’s Stadium Terrell Lloyd / San Francisco 49ers

Branching Out

The 49ers STEM Leadership Institute has also been implemented in the Cabrillo Middle School in Santa Clara, CA, which is just down the street from Levi’s Stadium. With the 49ers’ support and big help from the Chevron Corporation, who created the STEM labs at the school, 60 students from the Santa Clara Unified School District are selected each year to go through a six-year program designed to inspire and prepare students with high academic potential to pursue STEM majors at top-tier universities and become future leaders in their fields. In addition to enriched math and science instruction, students have regular access to the Chevron STEMZone, a tech lab equipped with a laser cutter, 3D printers and other fabrication tools.

Steve Woodhead, Chevron’s global social investment manager, told me that when the 49ers approached them to help with the STEM Institute, they were glad to be involved and worked hard to create the learning labs used in these special education programs.

Another important partner in this program is the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. SVEF’s charter is to be a resource and advocate for students and educators. They provide advocacy, programs and resources to help students reach their full potential in the critical areas of science, technology, engineering and math. According to Muhammed Chaudhry, president and CEO of SVEF, his non-profit group played an important role in advising the 49ers and Chevron on STEM studies and helped with the development of the curriculum used in the institute’s educational programs.

What the 49ers are doing is using sports — a subject that most kids understand and can relate to — and tying it to math, science, technology and engineering in a way that brings these disciplines to life, making learning these subjects fun and entertaining. Getting to see this program in action was truly enlightening. I saw how the 49ers’ STEM Leadership Institute could help create future tech leaders, the major goal of their vision and program from the start.

I hope that all of the folks in the sports industry school themselves on the 49ers’ pioneering STEM education program and how it takes full advantage of the role sports can play in teaching STEM-related disciplines.

Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc., a technology industry analysis and market-intelligence firm in Silicon Valley. He contributes to Big Picture, an opinion column that appears every week on TIME Tech.

TIME Sports

Michael Sam’s March to NFL History Derailed — but Only for Now

FILE - Michael Sam Released By St. Louis Rams
Michael Sam addresses the media during a press conference at Rams Park on May 13, 2014 in Earth City, Missouri. The St. Louis Rams released defensive end, ending Sam's effort to become the first openly gay player in NFL history. Dilip Vishwanat—Getty Images

Michael Sam the NFL player may not have a jersey right now, but he isn’t going anywhere

The Rams cut openly gay rookie defensive end Michael Sam on Saturday, minutes before the NFL’s mandated roster deadline. The news sent shockwaves through the NFL and the LGBT community Saturday afternoon, his march to history seemingly derailed.

Yet for Sam, his journey continues. This is just a hiccup for the man who was the first openly gay man drafted by the NFL, the first openly gay man to play in an NFL preseason game, and who will be the first openly gay man to play in a regular-season NFL game.

Michael Sam the NFL player may not have a jersey right now, but he isn’t going anywhere.

The road to that final piece of immortality is simply a little bumpier now. Sam will have to be signed by another team in the next 24 hours, or he’ll most certainly end up on the Rams’ practice squad. From there, he would continue to work with the staff that drafted him in May, honing his skills and proving his worth on the football field. He would then wait week-to-week as other NFL teams considered picking him up or until the Rams activated him for a game.

The journey isn’t over, it just took a left turn.

Sam was born to be this man. Growing up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood he survived tragedy after tragedy as a child, surrounded by drug dealers and coping with the loss of three siblings. His father abandoned the family during his youth. His mother, a Jehovah’s Witness, barred Sam from playing football when he was younger.

His mother banning him from football didn’t take, and neither will this.

Since coming out publicly, Sam has continued to endure. His NFL Draft stock fell in May in part — many including myself believe — because he is openly gay. He endured heavy criticism with the announcement of a docuseries produced by Oprah Winfrey. While many have lauded Sam, there have also been jabs at him, most recently with ESPN’s report on his showering habits.

With more scrutiny and pressure than any seventh-round pick in NFL history, plus the hopes of an entire community on his shoulders, Sam performed well in four preseason games, tallying three sacks and leading the team in tackles just last Thursday against the Miami Dolphins.

The Rams’ decision to cut him is just another hurdle that will ultimately demonstrate the courage and fortitude of a great man.

The man knows how to overcome set-backs and handle pressure. He was made for this trailblazing role. He was made for the NFL.

Many in the LGBT community are lashing out at the NFL today, claiming homophobia. It’s understandable. Gay men have been told for decades they’re not good enough to play football, they’re not welcome in the locker rooms. Some of those messages have even reverberated in 2014. While the Rams’ decision wasn’t based on homophobia, it’s hard not to afford gay men a little foot-stomping at this latest rejection.

You know who isn’t lashing out? Michael Sam. He knew this was always a possibility, part of the cold business that is the NFL. A coach is your mentor and father-figure one day. The next afternoon he gives you a pink slip. Sam understands this is not the end, but rather another opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, earn his spot at the very top of his profession and take his rightful place in history.

“The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy,” Sam said in a statement after learning the Rams’ decision. “This is a lesson I’ve always known.

“The journey continues.”

Zeigler is co-founder and editor of Outsports.com.

TIME Extreme Sports

Watch These Wingsuit Daredevils Make Risky Jumps for Internet Fame

Videos featuring extreme stunts are more and more common online, but some worry about the consequences as amateurs attempt riskier jumps

+ READ ARTICLE

Wingsuit flying – a sport in which people glide through the air while wearing a specialized suit – was first attempted in Switzerland in 2003.

More than 10 years later, the spectacular sport attracts hundreds of aficionados every year: recent estimates put the number of people practicing wingsuiting at about 2,000, AFP reports.

And as the sport becomes more popular, so have the videos shared online featuring daring stunts, turning expert wingsuiters into Internet sensations. Some are seen flying perilously close to mountainsides and approaching the record flying speed of 363 kph.

“Video has a positive side,” Vincent Descols, a wingsuit flier, told AFP. “It allows us to fine-tune the art of flight: the accuracy, the height at which to open the parachute.”

“But other videos are a problem because they give the impression that it’s easy,” Descols added.
Some worry that the online spread of wingsuit videos could be encouraging amateurs to take unprecedented risks. According to the Base Jumping Fatality List, there were 21 wingsuit deaths worldwide in 2013.

 

 

 

TIME Auto Racing

NASCAR Driver Tony Stewart: Deadly Incident Will ‘Affect My Life Forever’

Oral-B USA 500 - Practice
Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Bass Pro Shops / Mobil 1 Chevrolet, speaks to the media prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on August 29, 2014 in Hampton, Georgia. Jamie Squire—Getty Images

Nascar champion Tony Stewart's car struck his fellow racer on Aug. 9

NASCAR driver Tony Stewart said Friday he remains heartbroken after he hit and killed fellow driver Kevin Ward in a racing crash three weeks ago. The comments come as Stewart, a champion driver, prepares to race again for the first time since the tragedy.

“I’ve taken the last couple of weeks off out of respect for Kevin and his family and also to cope with the accident in my own way,” Stewart said. “It’s given me the time to think about life and how easy it is to take it for granted. I miss my team, my teammates and I miss being back in the race car and I think being back in the car this week with my racing family will help me get through this difficult time.”

The incident, which occurred in a sprint car race in upstate New York earlier this month, shocked the racing world. Stewart’s car struck 20-year-old Kevin Ward, Jr. as Ward walked on the tarmac of the race track, apparently trying to flag down Stewart after a collision between the two drivers.

Stewart did not take questions at the Friday press conference, citing an ongoing police investigation of the incident.

 

TIME Basketball

How Shelly Sterling Got Steve Ballmer to Overpay for the Clippers

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Clippers Game
Rochelle Sterling attends an NBA playoff game between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers Noel Vasquez—GC Images/Getty Images

Shelly Sterling lived in her estranged husband and real estate mogul Donald’s shadow for decades. But shortly before her 80th birthday, Shelly proved to the world that she, too, has a strong business acumen, by getting former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to overpay for the Clippers, she said in a Thursday interview.

Sterling might have had no idea who Ballmer was when he approached her to buy the basketball team, but she told the Associated Press that she knew she had an eager customer.

“He was a like a little child,” she said. “He was so excited, so happy.”

Although Sterling said that they “sort of connected” and she “felt he would be good for the team,” that also didn’t stop her from getting what the AP declared an “unprecedented” offer for the team.

Sterling had first received an offer of $1.65 billion for the team from potential buyer David Geffen, but after talking to Ballmer, he offered her $1.9 billion. But Sterling wasn’t done: After Ballmer had tried to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle, she made him promise he would keep the Clippers in Los Angeles.

“I told him, ‘you won’t have to build an arena or a practice field.’ So he was getting a bargain,” Sterling told the AP. “And I told him, ‘We have great players, a great coach and you’ll never have the chance to buy a team in Los Angeles again.'” An inspired Ballmer upped the offer to $2 billion and offered Sterling floor seats to every game as owner emeritus. “He really really wanted the team,” Sterling said.

According to leaked court documents that ESPN got its hands on, $2 billion was more than the Clippers’ actual worth.

Ballmer’s $2 billion final bid is 12.1 times the expected 2014 revenues of the team, according to the numbers given to the bidders by Bank of America, which conducted the sale on behalf of the Sterling trust. . .

“No team in the history of sports has sold for six times total revenues, so that should give you an idea of how crazy this purchase price is,” said a sports banker who was not involved in the transaction.

While money might have been a non-issue for the tech mogul and he would have paid the figure regardless, Sterling deserves serious credit for closing a huge deal — particularly after rising above her disgraced husband’s racist antics that cost him the team.

“I was given the task and I did it,” Sterling said. “I just did what I had to do.”

[AP]

MONEY Sports

Why Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games

Bleachers at Michigan Stadium.
Bleachers at Michigan Stadium. Simon Bruty—Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

With college football ticket prices soaring and expanded conferences leading to less exciting matchups, fans—students in particular—are more likely to watch games from home.

There’s no denying that college football is a hugely successful business enterprise, arguably the second-biggest, most popular sport in the U.S. right now (after pro football in the NFL). But there’s one glaring crack in the armor that college football conferences and storied college programs have been struggling with for years: Fewer and fewer fans are actually buying tickets and attending games in person.

The problem is particularly evident among students, who aren’t buying tickets like generations past. For the upcoming season, the University of Michigan, the winner of no fewer than 11 national championships and 42 conference crowns, projects that student attendance will hit around 13,000—a shocking 40% less than the figure hit last year (roughly 19,000).

It’s not just a problem in Ann Arbor. The Wall Street Journal reported that student attendance fell 7.1% from 2009 to 2013, and that it has even fallen over the past few years at games hosted by perennial powerhouses such as Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida State, LSU, and the University of Florida. A year ago, observers took note that home attendance was down for the majority of teams in the SEC, even though the conference has thoroughly dominated college football in recent years.

The two most frequently cited reasons for the ticket slump are simply: 1) higher ticket prices; and 2) less interesting games. A student season ticket package at Michigan, for instance, now costs $295, up from $205 not long ago. There are only six homes games in the package, mind you, so that breaks down to just under $50 per game. “There are students who are being priced out,” a Michigan business student named Michael Proppe explained to the WSJ. “People are looking to trim costs, and for a lot of folks, football is an easy thing to cut. It’s not essential to going to college.”

What makes the decision easier for students at Michigan and other schools is the expectation that the games they’re missing aren’t going to be that good. The shifting and expansion of college football conferences has led to incredibly lucrative TV contracts for the programs involved, but it has also meant that traditional rivals don’t play every year like they used to. Michigan’s biggest rivals are Michigan State and Ohio State, but for the first time in nearly 40 years, the Wolverines won’t be hosting either team this season. Instead, Michigan will welcome the likes of Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio), opponents that many fans apparently think aren’t worth paying $50 to see.

As ticket prices have soared, and the quality of the product has declined, it has become more of a no-brainer for fans—poor students in particular—to stay home and watch the game on the couch. After all, this option has gotten cheaper and more entertaining and convenient in recent years, thanks to the declining prices of big-screen TVs and the advent of DVRs, multi-angle replays, and other innovations. Sure, the exciting roar of the crowd may not be there if you watch the game at home, or the frat house, or heck, in the parking lot while tailgating outside the stadium. But the way trends are going in terms of shrinking attendance at games, the crowd might not be all that loud inside the stadium either.

MONEY Sports

How College Football Sacked the NBA and MLB

Houston football fans singing the National Anthem
Dave Einsel—AP

With the college football season upon us, it's time to take stock of just how valuable this "amateur" sport has become.

Want to know how rabid fans have become for college football?

Well, the season kicks off in earnest tonight when the South Carolina Gamecocks (ranked 9th in the country) take on the Texas A&M Aggies (ranked 21st).

The game will be played in Columbia, South Carolina, in front of 80,000 screaming fans — an amazing feat given that Columbia has a population of just 133,000. The Aggies, for their part, play in Kyle Field, which in 2015 will be able to hold almost every single College Station, Texas, resident.

Last year, the Gamecocks opened with a game against the University of North Carolina, and 3.7 million people across the country tuned in. That may not sound that impressive, but consider that Columbia is just the 77th largest television market in the U.S., behind cities like Omaha and Toledo.

There’s no doubt about it. Americans love football.

More people watched the NFL Sunday Night pregame show last year than watched the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. In fact, professional football games comprised all but four of the 50 most-watched sporting events of 2013. The National Football League is the most popular spectator sport in America.

What’s No. 2? Not the NBA, not Major League Baseball—but college football. And with college football introducing a new-fangled playoff system this year, expect America’s infatuation to only grow.

Here are a few measures of its influence.

Ratings

The 2013 NBA finals featured perhaps the most popular athlete in the world, Lebron James, as his super team battled against the San Antonio Spurs for seven unforgettable games. An average of almost 18 million viewers saw James secure his second NBA title. A few months later, 15 million baseball fans saw the Red Sox win their third championship since 2004.

How many viewers watched Florida State beat Auburn in the 2014 BCS title game? Twenty-six million, per Nielsen ratings.

This isn’t a one-off event. On average, 2.6 million people watched NCAA regular season football games last year, according to Nielsen. Take Saturday, October 5, 2013. Both the University of Georgia and Tennessee were enduring less than stellar seasons. Nevertheless, 5.6 million people tuned in to see the two Southeastern Conference schools play each another on CBS.

Viewer demand is only likely to increase. Starting this year, college football will institute a four-team playoff to decide the national champion, and rejiggered rules allow the biggest football programs more control over their finances. According to USA Today, these developments will lead to the biggest schools earning 71.5% of the $470 million annual television revenue for the playoff.

Baseball and basketball simply don’t attract as many eyeballs. About 700,000 people watched an MLB regular season game on television in 2013, and 1.4 million watched a non-playoff NBA game in the 2012-13 season. (All are based on nationally televised games.)

The total attendance for 835 NCAA Division I football games was a little more than 38 million, with a per-game attendance of 46,000. The NBA, which has almost 400 more total games in its season, drew 21 million people, while the MLB attracted 30,500 per game. (Major League Baseball has almost three times as many games and brought in a total of 74 million fans.)

Reach

Part of college football’s popularity might be its reach. While the NBA and MLB have 30 teams collected mostly around large metropolitan areas, college football programs exist where there are colleges – which is everywhere. Consider that New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco have 15 professional baseball and basketball teams. That’s a quarter of all the teams in only four cities.

Now look at NCAA football. The top five teams play in Tallahassee, Tuscaloosa, Eugene, Norman, and Columbus. While it’s true that a number of the West Coast schools play in big cities (UCLA, Stanford, and the University of Washington), most of the big-time schools are the only game in town. If you live in Boise, Idaho, do you really care about anything else the way you care about Boise State Broncos football?

Riches

There is something a bit unsettling about college football’s popularity, and corresponding affluence. A college football coach is the highest paid public employee in 27 states – including South Carolina and Texas. Alabama’s Nick Saban made more than $5.5 million last year, despite the fact that his and every other team’s players weren’t paid anything. (Many were given athletic scholarships, but those can be taken away if a “student-athlete” becomes injured. Just for some perspective: the University of Texas’s football program earned $82 million in profit last year.)

Plus, football is a dangerous game, and it’s an open question whether an institution of higher learning should even be in the business of promoting a sport that causes severe head trauma. (Google: Owen Thomas.)

College football, though, is inexorably linked to American history. The first intercollegiate game took place four years after the end of the Civil War, and the college game itself was saved by then President Teddy Roosevelt.

Otherwise normal, hard-working Americans revert to 20-year-old fanatics every fall Saturday afternoon and cheer on their alma maters. Tonight’s game in Columbia is just another page in the never-ending story of America’s love with her second-favorite sport.

TIME

USC Football Player Suspended Indefinitely for Fake Drowning Story

Southern California cornerback Josh Shaw lines up against California defensive back Isaac Lapite during the first quarter of a NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif.
Southern California cornerback Josh Shaw lines up against California defensive back Isaac Lapite during the first quarter of a NCAA college football game in Berkeley, Calif. Eric Risberg—AP

Shaw has been suspended "indefinitely" from the Trojan athletic program

University of Southern California’s cornerback Josh Shaw said Wednesday he lied when he told his coaches he sprained his ankles while attempting to save his drowning nephew. In response, the USC Trojans suspended Shaw indefinitely from the athletic program as a result of what he referred to as a “complete fabrication.”

“We are extremely disappointed in Josh,” USC coach Steve Sarkisian said in a statement. “He let us all down. As I have said, nothing in his background led us to doubt him when he told us of his injuries, nor did anything after our initial vetting of his story.”

USA Today reports that members of the school’s athletic department doubted Shaw’s story from the beginning. The investigation into Shaw’s injury had been ongoing since Monday when the school posted the initial story in which Shaw claimed to have sprained his ankles after jumping onto concrete from an apartment balcony in an attempt to save his drowning 7-year-old nephew.

In a statement issued through his lawyer, according to USCTrojans.com, Shaw apologized saying, “I made up a story about this fall that was untrue. I was wrong to not tell the truth. I apologize to USC for this action on my part.” The statement did not include any information about the real reason behind Shaw’s injuries.

Shaw is a fifth year senior at USC where he was a team captain on the football team.

TIME Sports

Black Cat Interrupts Barcelona Game

A cat runs on the pitch during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between FC Barcelona and Elche at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Manu Fernandez – AP

Paws-ing play until it trotted off the field

It looked like an unlucky beginning to the Spanish soccer season yesterday when a black cat wandered onto the field, mere minutes after kickoff in the Barcelona vs. Elche match.

The feline intruder upstaged all the players as it raced around the field and evaded capture, much to the delight of laughing fans and commentators. It eventually trotted off the field, apparently done with its time in the spotlight.

Turns out the cat was a bad omen for Elche – Barcelona won the match 3-0.

Manu Fernandez – AP

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