My book, Saturday Millionaires: How Winning Football Builds Winning Colleges is now available for pre-order! You can find out all about the book and pre-order on the Saturday Millionaires book page.
I wanted to share with you the original Preface I wrote, which has since been cut from the book. It explains how this book came to be…
Proposals for improving college football are like assholes: everyone has one. That’s how we describe an excess of anything in the South. That’s not what this book is about.
This is the untold story of college football.
Once upon a time I was just a simple college football fan sporting my orange and blue in The Swamp every Saturday, trying to look cute while glistening (Southern women do not sweat) in the Central Florida heat. When the Gators only road to the National Championship in 2006 rested upon what I considered an improbable loss by USC to UCLA in the final week, I agreed with my friends that college football needed a playoff.
Back then, the only aspects about college football that made sense to me were why Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was called The Swamp (the air is thick and full of Gators!) and that something special would happen every time Tim Tebow stepped on the field.
As I reflect upon how I transitioned from there to playing devil’s advocate on topics including pay-for-play and whether the BCS could have survived an antitrust suit, I realize it’s the access I’ve had to athletic departments via my former positions with SportsMoney on Forbes.com, Comcast Sports Southeast, my founding of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and my current position as a sports business reporter at ESPN that have made all the difference.
I remember naively wondering why no AQ conference (that’s Automatic Qualifying, as in the big 6 conferences: SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC and Big East) had snapped up Boise State after it began posting winning season after winning season. By the time the Pac-12 and Big East announced adding Utah and TCU, respectively, in the fall of 2010, I knew why they had ascended to the highest tier of college football: they brought top television markets. Winning teams come and go, but a top market you can count on long-term.
There was the time I thought athletic departments, particularly those in AQ conferences, were printing money. I’ll never forget the dose of reality I was served along with each school’s line item budget I received. If we’re talking about only football, yes, dozens of schools show net revenue, and some are healthier than others.
That football profit doesn’t simply sit in a vault marked “Property of State University Football”. It typically supports most of the other sports in the athletic department, nearly all of whom operate at a loss. At University of Florida, one of the healthiest athletic departments in the country, the average sport outside football and men’s basketball loses $1.4 million per season. Fortunately for the Gators, the profit from football covers all that and then some.
At schools where it doesn’t? That’s when you see those student fee and direct institutional support line items soar. Which brings me to another lesson learned: not all direct institutional support or government support reported on a school’s NCAA disclosure is what it seems. It could be state lottery funds designated for Title IX usage or waivers for out-of-state student-athletes so the athletic department only has to be in-state tuition for those students.
We’ll also take a look at how television changed the course of college football in a 1984 Supreme Court decision and the periods of conference realignment that followed. Lest you think television runs college football, we’ll also delve into conference television networks and the latest long-term television deals. You’ll see it’s the conferences who are the real power brokers in college football today.
Saturday Millionaires will take you inside the athletic departments at a variety of schools from one of the top departments in the country at Ohio State University to smaller departments like Western Kentucky University. I’ll show you their line item budgets, highlight where they excel and explain their struggles. You’ll see how an Athletic Director can change the course of an entire department, like Tom Jurich has at Louisville.
I will also show you how NCAA regulations and federal laws impact decisions made in and around college football. You’ll begin to understand why Title IX complicates pay-for-play plans whether the money comes in the form of an increased scholarship to cover cost-of-attendance or from the pocket of a donor. I’ll show you what would happen if athletic departments lost their tax-exempt status. I’ll even explain why the threat of an antitrust suit has perhaps done more for college football than an actual suit would have accomplished.
Lastly, we’ll talk about the intersection of athletics and academics. There are those who say athletics has destroyed academics at universities. What about the 200 percent increase TCU saw in applications from high school students in Oregon following its BCS bowl appearances? Or how TCU now receives more applications from California than nearby Houston?
Studies have shown athletics impact everything from application rates, to selectivity, academic ranking, donations, state appropriations, licensing and branding. In recent years, those correlations have only grown. The potential influence dwarfs the cost. For example, at University of Florida athletics accounts for just 2.7 percent of total university operating expenses. Meanwhile, Shands Hospital accounts for 33 percent.
The point being that universities are more than single-product academic institutions today. They’re mutli-product entities offering a wide range of products from traditional classroom education to study abroad to world-class medical centers and big-time collegiate athletics. It’s the job of each individual university to choose the right products to make up the entity to form a cohesive unit. Some schools are better at this than others, but that’s a free market economy for you.The most-used words in discussions on college football are “fair” and its antithesis, “unfair”. It’s unfair players aren’t paid when athletic departments are making millions off them. It’s not fair that schools in AQ conferences make more than schools in non-AQ conferences.
I hate the word “fair” and it’s ugly cousin “unfair”. I may begin a campaign to ban them from the English language. Who’s with me?
Maybe you will be after you read Saturday Millionaires.
I won’t tell you that college football, and college athletics in general, is without fault. Like any industry, there are business units and management within those units who bend the rules, sometimes until they break. This book isn’t about defending rule-breakers, it’s about giving you the information necessary to form your own opinions about the business of college football the next time you see a flashy headline.
I’ll give you all of the information I’ve had privy to as a journalist covering college athletics. Maybe by the end you’ll leave the young girl in orange and blue behind like I did and begin to look at college football in a new light. Of course, if you’re a man reading this, feel free to instead leave behind the over-enthusiastic fan with the “O” painted on his chest.