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Television Deals Do Not Equal Wins In College Football

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Conference realignment, the banished BCS, a four-team playoff and a wealth of new revenue created by conference TV networks all prove that dollars drive today's college football. But as long as it's illegal to pay players, they don't automatically translate to wins. Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images.
Conference realignment, the banished BCS, a four-team playoff and a wealth of new revenue created by conference TV networks all prove that dollars drive today's college football. But as long as it's illegal to pay players, they don't automatically translate to wins. Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images.

On April 18, Notre Dame announced an extension of its TV deal with NBC through the 2025 season. It’s reportedly worth about $15 million a year.

Just a few days earlier, The ACC announced that all of its member schools signed their media rights over to the conference. The grant ensures that a school leaving the conference will still owe their television revenues to the ACC through 2027. Now that the conference owns all of the rights, it is able to begin work on launching its own cable network. Revenues will reach the nine-figure range.

Also scheduled for that week was the announcement of a new 24-hour television network between ESPN and the SEC that would generate around $400 million in annual revenue, but the announcement was rightfully postponed due to the events surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings.

When it comes to college football, maximizing television revenues has become more important than bringing in top-ranked recruiting classes.

Why?

Because television deals and cable networks are a great way to make a ton of money. Just ask the Big 10

Forbes named the Big 10 the most valuable conference in college sports, and it certainly wasn't because of the $40 million it made from bowl games. The Big Ten Network printed $250 million for the conference and Forbes also anticipates that the addition of Maryland and Rutgers will generate another $100 million when they join in 2014. Not because of their storied football programs, mind you, but because of the number of television sets in the New York City and Washington, D.C. markets. 

It’s almost as if the only thing these not-for-profit institutions care about is making money!

But before the Fighting Irish, the SEC and the ACC offer up high fives to each other for their financial accomplishments, they would do well to take note of one critical fact: college football isn’t Major League Baseball and the Big 10 isn’t the New York Yankees. The team with the biggest checkbook to balance hasn’t been the one holding the crystal football at the end of the year.

Since the Big Ten Network launched in 2007, the conference hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. In fact, a case can be made that the Big 10 has regressed. The only member of the Big 10 to make a national championship game appearance in the last five years was Ohio State in 2007, where it lost to LSU 38-24. The Buckeyes also boast a 12-0 record from last season, but a post-season ban kept them out of title contention.  

Michigan, one of the conference cornerstones, is only now starting to recover from the ill-fated Rich Rodriguez era, but they showed how close they are to the nation’s elite when Alabama beat them down 41-14 in the 2012 season opener.

The Big 10 isn't alone. Since inking their first television deal with NBC, Notre Dame hasn’t done a bang-up job of waking up the echoes. The Irish managed six 10-win seasons and compiled a 5-11 record in bowl games over 22 seasons on network television. They’ve only been in the national championship discussion twice (1993 and 2012) and after the Alabama massacre, I’ve yet to find a fan or alum that wants to even discuss last season.

The truth is, until colleges can — ahem — legally pay big money to their players, huge revenue streams won’t automatically translate to wins. All it will guarantee is bigger salaries for coaches, nicer luxury boxes and bigger stadium additions. Hopefully it also contributes to bigger general scholarship funds and more modern research facilities as well, since we’re talking about colleges and all. 

So to all the institutions that just signed up for fat new pay days, go ahead and celebrate. You’ll be able to show off how much money you made at the BCS commissioners' meeting next year. You just might not be able to do it with a national championship trophy in your hands.