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The Cost Of Winning In The FBS

by Joe Jenkins
Aug 06, 2013 8:22 AM EDT



Anybody that claims Alabama hasn’t been the best college football program in the nation since 2009 needs to have his or her head examined. Three BCS championships tend kill off any opposing argument.

College football on the highest level is big business, however. It costs a lot of money to produce a national powerhouse. In 2011, it cost the Crimson Tide $36,918,963 — more than any other team in the nation — according to the Office of Postsecondary Education.

The OPE’s website states that $36.9 million tab “includes appearance guarantees and options, athletically-related student aid, contract services, equipment, fundraising activities, operating expenses, promotional activities, recruiting expenses, salaries and benefits, supplies, travel and any other expenses attributable to intercollegiate athletic activities.” Pretty much everything you could possibly spend money on in a college football season.

It certainly sounds like a lofty price for a national championship, especially when you consider LSU, the team that Alabama defeated for the BCS championship, managed to spend $12,869,681 less and still made it to the big game. 

LSU may not have been more successful than ‘Bama, but they were certainly more cost-efficient in compiling wins. 

This isn’t an anomaly. Auburn spent the most money in the nation for their BCS championship in 2010. The Tigers spent $39,069,676 versus $18,198,476 for their opponent, Oregon.

In fact, the BCS champion has ranked in the Top 10 in expenses every year since 2003 except for one — 2007 when LSU clocked in at No. 19 ($19,908,178). In all but three years, the top team in the nation ranked in the Top 5. 

It’s worth noting that it costs more than a sock full of nickels for a school to participate in any bowl game, much less a BCS bowl. The New Haven Register outlined the expenses The University of Connecticut had to absorb when it attended the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in 2011. The school was responsible for selling its allotment of 17,500 tickets (roughly $2.5 million in face value) to a football game that was nearly 2,600 miles away and had to buy up a block of 550 hotel rooms at three different hotels. All of these expenses come before funding transportation and food for an entire football team, cheerleading squad and marching band. The school absorbed the cost of tickets and hotel rooms that weren’t sold.

Going to big-time bowl games doesn’t account for everything, however. Schools like Penn State, Auburn and Texas were all in the Top 10 in expenses, but played in second-tier bowl games in 2011. 

The last point only goes to prove what we’ve learned from Major League Baseball: Spending more isn’t always a VIP pass to the top of the standings. Spending money on the right guy is just as important.

Five of the top six head coaches in terms of salary are: Nick Saban ($5.3 million per year), Mack Brown ($5.29 million per year), Bob Stoops ($4.55 million), Urban Meyer ($4.25 million) and Les Miles ($3.75 million). For those keeping score, there are eight BCS championships between those five coaches. Saban was the head coach for four of those eight, so he's clearly earned the right to be the highest-paid coach in the country.

The sixth coach on that list is Kirk Ferentz of Iowa, who has a career record of 108-87 and a 6-4 bowl record. Clearly the Hawkeyes are spending more recklessly than the other programs. 

A head coach really is only one man, though. True player development requires a staff of competent assistants and those assistants need to get paid as well. 

The schools that pay their coordinators and position coaches the best? 

You guessed it. Alabama, Texas and LSU are the top three in total compensation for their coaches. 

One area of spending that doesn’t always translate to on-field success is recruiting. Tennessee and Notre Dame have spent every year since 2003 in the Top 5 in spending for men’s recruiting. The Equity in Athletics Data Analysis doesn’t require schools to break down recruiting spending by sport, but its safe to assume that a reasonable portion of the funds go to the football programs. Since 2003, both schools have combined for two BCS bowl appearances, both Notre Dame losses.

It may take strong finances to win consistently at the FBS level, but it takes an even stronger understanding of where to allocate that money to win BCS championships.