A few weeks ago, we looked at which college football teams have had the most on-field success per dollar spent. Because spending is just one part of a program’s finances, let's also examine how revenue translates to success.
Football revenue figures came from the U.S. Department of Education. On-field results were measured with the Massey Composite, an index that averages dozens of rankings including the AP Poll and computer ratings. Data was unavailable for the service academies, and schools that have been FBS for fewer than 10 seasons were also excluded.
(Alabama had 13 combined losses in 2006 and 2007, so those seasons prevent them from reaching the very tip top of this chart despite the four national titles. The difference between finishing first and fifth in the AP Poll feels like a huge distance and the difference between finishing No. 30 and No. 35 feels minimal, but numerically, they can have the same impact. Because of that, a few forgettable seasons can really alter an average.)
On average, FBS programs this past decade made $23.3 million per year. And the median was $20 million.
But there was a huge range. ULM made just $3.2 million per year on football, while Texas brought in a whopping $92.2 million per year. However, Texas is a ridiculous outlier. The No. 2, Alabama, made $73.1 million per year. That’s still an insane amount of money.
Again, Boise State gets the most out of its money.
On the field, the Broncos have exceeded their revenue ranking by 47.3 spots. Despite making just $13.5 million per year on football, Boise has had various top-10 finishes, multiple Fiesta Bowl victories, and several Power 5 upsets.
Among Power 5 programs, TCU, Stanford, Utah, Missouri, and Baylor stand out. However, Utah and TCU weren’t in a Power 5 conference for a good chunk of this analysis.
Wake Forest, Pitt, Oklahoma, Troy, and Clemson had the smallest discrepancies between their revenue and on-field success, which puts them on the chart’s dotted line.
Colorado got the worst production out of its revenue. Over the past 10 seasons, the Buffaloes made $26.7 million per year, but they have been the worst Power 5 team, with a Massey ranking of 85.9, which is nearly 50 spots below their revenue ranking. (Kansas got a few good years from Mark Mangino, otherwise KU's figures would probably be even more dismal than Colorado’s.)
Texas Tech, Indiana, and Washington were also pretty bad, considering how much money came into their programs.
It’s pretty easy to laugh at Colorado, but take these results with a grain of salt.
I examined football revenue, not athletic department revenue. Many football teams have more resources than their football-related revenue indicates. For example, if a donor gifts your university a multi-sport facility, on paper the revenue gained from that donation might elevate the entire athletic department’s revenue but not the football program’s specifically. I only looked at raw numbers, and I did not attempt to control for how general athletic department revenue might bleed into football resources.
It’s also worth noting that with the huge TV deals major conferences now get, even the shittiest Power 5 teams are guaranteed to bring in a good amount of money. And because Power 5 teams make so much, their revenue rankings are tilted toward exceeding their on-field rankings. On average, Power 5 teams (including Notre Dame) made $35.8 million per year, while non-Power 5 teams made $7.5 million per year.
With that said, this data is the best of what’s publicly available, and it gives you a ballpark estimate of how well teams are performing relative to how much money they make.
For what it’s worth, there was a 0.80 correlation between schools’ on-field rankings and their football-related revenue rankings, which is a pretty strong relationship.
This sortable table shows each team's average Massey ranking, revenue ranking, and the difference between the two. It also includes "profit" rankings, which are simply total football revenues minus total football costs. But because the accounting methods used by many athletic departments are pretty misleading, remain skeptical of anything to do with "profit" in college football.
|Team||Massey||Revenue||Profit||Revenue difference||Profit difference|
|New Mexico St||115.3||100.9||102.9||-14.4||-12.4|
|San Diego St||73.4||75.2||87.6||1.8||14.2|
|San Jose St||85||102||95.5||17||10.5|