Guess how many Division One sports there are where NCAA champions are declared each year? The answer is twenty-four. Of those, how many schools do you think play at the highest level of college football? The answer is 129. Of those 129 schools how many make money from their football team? That question is an unknown. Certainly, schools in the Power Five Conferences, that is the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12, SEC and Notre Dame and possibly Brigham Young (which also plays a football independent), all generate most of the revenue from their football programs. That revenue in turn funds all those non-income producing sports at various schools. Some of the figures football programs produce are astounding. Way back in 2016, at least 25 schools produced over One Hundred Million ($100,000,000) Dollars per year from their football teams, respectively. Not all that money is from television rights. Much of it is in donations and Licensing/Rights fees generated from sales ranging from tickets to clothing to radio rights, etc… For Notre Dame, which has a traveling “van”, nobody knows what their fees are because they are a private school and thereby not accountable to the public to disclose their yearly totals. The guess here is that it is huge.
There is no “basketball only” school on the list like NCAA champion Villanova and the entire list consists of teams from those Power Five conferences. Football is where the “big” money is and that’s why expansion happened. So, while the other 63 teams are playing college football at the highest level in the group I refer to as “the outsiders”, college football is not always the primary source of revenue generated to fund those other programs. Those schools watch their money very closely. Many drop sports because they are not income producing or to be compliant with Title IX which under federal law requires all colleges, public and private, not to discriminate based on gender. Many of them do operate their football programs at a profit but some must make up for deficits by raising funds from alumni, licensing fees, etc. That’s why so many of them play the larger schools usually in September and on the road, in consideration for a large payout. Those schools need the fees to survive and pay their bills. Even with the large difference in revenue, many remain respectable which is a source of pride for their alumni and their supporters by fielding competitive teams each year. Look at Central Florida which plays out of the American Athletic Conference. They went undefeated (13-0) and beat Auburn in their bowl game last year. Auburn is one of those teams on that list. Still, anyone who doesn’t see that it is still the haves and have nots competing at the highest level is turning a blind eye.
A closer look illustrates just how far the disparity is between the haves and have nots. The University of Texas, the only other school besides Notre Dame with their own television contract, has The Longhorn Network, a partnership between the University and ESPN worth about Thirty Million ($30,000,000) Dollars per year. This year, they will to make approximately One Hundred Million ($100,000,000) Dollars in PROFIT. That’s not revenue generated, that’s what they made! Central Florida, the largest school in Florida with a total enrollment of over 66,000, generated just Seventeen Million ($17,000.00) Dollars in revenue and all of it was spent to fund various athletic programs. OK, so you probably knew there was a healthy disparity in revenue between the Power Five schools and the Outsiders. The problem with that is that disparity is growing by leaps and bounds not only between the outsiders but also members of the Power Five schools. All this money generally gets poured back in the programs, especially football, to hire coaches, build new facilities, stadium renovations, etc. You name it and the big schools find a way to spend it. It’s called an arms race. Every school is trying to impress these high school recruits and what better way than increasing seating capacity, building newer and bigger weight rooms, meeting rooms, indoor practice facilities and of course, new dormitories, all equipped with the latest technology. That requires new investment in the form of money.
While television revenue provides a large chunk to accomplish these goals, donations can be the heart of any program. When people ask is Nick Saban of Alabama, the highest paid coach in the country at over eight million ($8,000,000) Dollars per year, worth it? The easy answer is yes. When your football team is doing well, those donations and contributions increase by large numbers. That’s what’s happened at Alabama after Saban arrived and won five national championships in ten years. Alabama is now a “brand” marketed by the University of which the school benefits. Everything goes up. Applications, enrollment, contributions, investments—everything. That’s why the situation at Ohio State is so important because Urban Meyer, the coach and face of the program, wins consistently which results in all those benefits linked to the University for its own “brand”. Lose or worse yet, get placed on probation and it is not easy to recover quickly. That’s what happened to little Southern Methodist University, which competes in the AAC as well. They were on top of college football but after being put on probation by the NCAA, they violated that probation through serious recruiting infractions. The NCAA instituted their football team the “death penalty”. They have never and will never recover. That’s what happened to Miami, Nebraska and the like, who for so many years dominated the national college football landscape and raised millions through their football success, saw those benefits fall flat when their football teams lost consistently. Winning is the common element to all those benefits, especially donations. Certainly, I’m not suggesting Meyer’s or Ohio State’s future is comparable to what happened to SMU, Nebraska or Miami. However, it is vital to the focus for Ohio State University to create new revenue streams and increase old ones. For the over 66,00 Ohio State students and half a million alumni who live nationwide, winning in college football is the driving force for their continued financial commitment to their school and Urban Meyer is the conductor of that train. Ohio State is a prestigious academic institution, but it is better known for its football prominence than its academia. Some may disagree. I say go look at the athletic facilities, the football stadium and the surrounding City of Columbus and its local newspaper, The Columbus Dispatcher daily news, and then come back and tell me what you think. It’s not even close and they’re not the only “blue blood” programs in the same group. The list goes on.