I Can Hardly Wait…

Not really.

On Monday I will watch the National Championship Game for a second time. The BCS is forcing us to relive the matchup that brought us the possibly-most-boring-game of the season: LSU (1) vs Alabama (2). Yawn.

In case you missed it, LSU squeaked out a 9-6 win against the Crimson Tide earlier in the season. As you can guess from the score it was a bit of a snoozer.

Thanks to the playoffless system in place now, they really had no choice but to give us a sequel. It is No. 1 vs No. 2. That’s all she wrote.

In the lead up to the “big game” there was a very interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about collegiate teams and what they would be worth if you could buy and sell them like NFL franchises.

Number 1 on the list was the Texas Longhorns. The football team, just football, is  worth: $805 million dollars.

To give you some perspective, the Jacksonville Jaguars recently sold for $770 million. The Minnesota Vikings are valued at a hair under $800 m.

In the $600 million range was Florida and Michigan. Followed by Notre Dame, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State and LSU in the $500’s. So while Texas is the only college team that rubs shoulders with NFL valuations, the fact that any collegiate sport is worth that kind of money is astonishing.

I began to wonder how much money these big time colleges actually spend on their teams. One would think you could just Google “how much does Texas spend on football” and come up with a number, but you really can’t. At least I couldn’t. I could find the Athletic Department budgets, which includes basketball, baseball, hockey (ice and field), volleyball, swimming, and any other men’s or women’s varsity sport. Then I found a lovely little chart on Self-Sustaining Athletic programs that showed me what they spend on just football.

What is most surprising to me, however, was that there are only 22 programs that do not need monetary support from their respective Universities or any government funding. I am assuming that these are only State schools, because Notre Dame isn’t on that list and I find it VERY UNLIKELY that it isn’t self-sustaining. I found the list on The Business of Collegiate Sports, a guide to all things NCAA/financial. What blew my mind is that Texas is not only worth the most…it pays the most. It put over $130 million dollars into football. That’s an eye-watering amount. The lowest amount spent by a self-sustaining school is the $42 million-plus Kansas State allocates.

Just for grins I looked up the FY 2012 Athletic Department budget for the University of Michigan. It was $109.8 million. They spent just under $90 million on the football program.

Oregon had the highest profit, oh, excuse me, operating surplus, of any school with something like $40 million left over after all the receipts were totaled. Yikes.

Money translates into BCS championships.

Over the past ten years these 22 schools have held all but four of the slots in the BCS Championship game. The four not in the club are Auburn, Miami (Florida) and USC (who went twice). The other 17 big-spending schools’ average football budget was $103 million.

The more you spend, the more prestigious the program, the better your recruiting, the better your team, and so on…the cycle is self-perpetuating. Would these teams be this good if they didn’t spend that much money? Nope. Maybe, however, the question ought to  be “SHOULD they be spending that much money?” Even if we only look at the self-sustaining schools, should universities place this much emphasis on football? Should football be this important to the collegiate culture?

These 22 non-for-profit schools cleared roughly $200 million. Major League Soccer would die for those numbers. Of course, MLS has to pay it’s players, something the NCAA and its  free labor force don’t have to deal with. You all know how I feel about that.

Most of the Athletic departments do not have to share that money. I don’t have the energy to do all the research that would go with telling you who gets to keep what and how much and for how long… but basically that means that Oregon football keeps the surplus. They sometimes write checks back to the University, but they don’t necessarily have to.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know if Saint Mary’s would have been nearly as attractive without those student tickets to ND football games being part of the deal. But I was lucky: I tested well, had reasonable grades, and had parents that could pay for college. I had a choice of several schools. Most people don’t have that luxury. So I think more people wish they could go to these schools because of football than choose these schools because of football.

What a good football team/athletic department does do is keep the alumni writing checks.

And since money and prestige are the driving forces behind the BCS, I am constantly left speechless at the fact that they won’t institute a playoff system. Everyone knows that they are leaving money on the table by not holding playoffs. I guess they like to keep the club small. But it takes the Cinderella story out of college football…look how hard Boise State had to hump to get the BCS to take it seriously.

Maybe I would be looking more forward to Monday’s game if there had been playoffs. Of course, playoffs seldom guarantee a riveting game…look at the Superbowl, or the last few World Series (excluding the most recent one). But it might make the build-up better, or make us care more about who is in it. Who knows, maybe it would just make us sick of football.

Monday I will tune into the championship game, marvel at the machine that makes all this possible, and hope that the pollsters give me something worth watching.

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