clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What's Your College Football Program Worth? Introducing Realignment Value Rankings

If we're going to follow conference realignment as if it's a sport, we might as well come up with a scoring system.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Getty Images

We talk about conference realignment a lot. Pretty much every day. It's become the third sport of college football, right after recruiting. But how do we figure out who's winning it?

Here's an attempt at assigning a Realignment Value to every school in or close to joining FBS, so we can figure out exactly which conferences are winning (and by how much) and how big the remaining moves are.

First, the top 10 schools, ranked by how much value (lower number is better) they provide their conferences. After this, I'll explain what this all means and share the complete list.


Well, that's a top 10 that makes sense. Not a surprise in the bunch. Way to go, spreadsheet. So. As for those categories, here's a rundown of what went into each, followed by the rest of the rankings.

Related: Why Not Relegation Instead? || What The SEC And Big 12 Should Build || The Big 12's Next Moves?


Pretty simple. Athletic department revenue. Most would argue this should be the only category, but then my spreadsheet would suck. And besides, the point of this is to account for all the stuff commissioners and presidents say they're really into.

Comparing revenue to overall rankings down below helps show which schools are overachieving -- Louisville, Kansas State, South Carolina, UNLV, Old Dominion -- and which should be making much more money, based on their resources and results. UCLA, Cal and Arizona State very much fit the latter, along some small schools like North Texas.

For private schools, which don't have to reveal revenue, ESPN actually includes estimates in a database of its own. And for private schools not listed there, I equated revenue with overall value, since that seemed fairest.

Football Success:

To come up with one number that would include the past, present and immediate future of each program, I combined three sets of rankings, all of them via our own Bill Connelly: Five-year F/+ rankings ordering each school's football programs over the past five years, these 100-year rankings to add in some history, and five-year recruiting rankings from Alabama topped all three, making for about six more national championships in need of claiming right now.

The historical ranking is relevant both as a look at each program's generational support (as we know, what Notre Dame did 80 years ago means as much as what it did eight months ago) and a sort of baseline for success --Tennessee's past is more representative of its program and its future than its last four years have been. On the other hand, it's hard to be sure Boise State can keep succeeding if it loses its incredible coaching staff, as we only have a little more than a decade of results to measure the Broncos by. If we were ranking by nothing but football results over the past five years, Boise State would do very well, but we're trying to rank for everything.

Recruiting rankings give both a look at where each team is headed and an idea of the resources a program can count on for itself and for its conference. Texas A&M was an excellent pickup for the SEC both because it gets talented players and because the SEC can now get more talented players from Texas.

Also, for the teams moving up over the next few years who haven't played FBS games yet, I just threw in an eyeball'd score for each here. Appalachian State posting a national title threepeat and beating Michigan in the Big House feels sort of on par with Wazzu scoring a lot and making top bowls every few decades, while Charlotte has yet to play football. So there's a wide range.

Also, after looking at the numbers for three days, I'm convinced a few more schools are qualified to ponder a jump, specifically James Madison and Delaware. I still don't get the Charlotte thing.

Other Sports Success:

Directors' Cup standings, which combine standings from all sports, over the past three years. Stanford always wins it. It's easy for us to think football is the only factor at play in conference realignment, but the Big East and ACC especially show other sports matter too.

LEGAL NOTICE: Please do not conference realign like the Big East and ACC do.

These rankings include only FBS schools, by the way, so they won't match up with the actual DC standings.

Shutdown Fullback's Spencer Hall and Jason Kirk on conference realignment end games.


Like non-football sports, book-learnin' gets talked about a whole lot during realignment, though there's even less of a reason to care about it. The Big Ten has an academic consortium among its members, but otherwise conference affiliation really has nothing tangible to do with academics. That the Big Ten's CIC includes Chicago, which is no longer in the Big Ten, shows how essential conference status is to sharing research money.

But it's a prestige and branding thing, and the higher-ups say they care about it. And it does help show which schools are big, aged institutions with lots of support, all of which do directly impact sports.

I used the U.S. News & World Report list for starters (with this often wacky Forbes list to fill in the schools USN&WR skips, like service academies). I then averaged that with alumni salaries from PayScale to establish the score for most schools.

Also, I included a five-point Academics bonus for AAU status, since that's another thing the suits talk about a lot, and schools with endowments of more than a billion dollars got another bonus.


Football attendance over the past three years. If I could include only two numbers, I'd go for revenue and attendance. This one incorporates a little bit of everything, from facilities quality to fan support.

Media Market Stuff:

Maybe the second most important one for the time being, and the hardest to quantify without doing this exact thing for a living. Also the most frustrating to look at.

It's not meant to rank each school's popularity or how often they're covered in the media, but more the opportunity each school offers to conference commissioners who want big TV network deals.

I combined each school's native state population and TV market size (with some common sense -- Texas is included with the Dallas schools instead of mere Austin), this New York Times post on using Google Trends to determine fan base size (again with lots of small adjustments -- Atlanta's college football madness made Georgia Tech easy to overestimate in the NYT piece) and each school's enrollment.

Enrollment is kind of a goofy one here, and it could go in Academics just fine. Doesn't really matter any way, since points are all ending up in the same place. But I think combining all the population rankings in one place makes sense. And we have several other rankings throughout to correct for, you know, Central Florida being a really big school full of Gator-Knight fans.

I made two final adjustments here: BYU and Notre Dame got big boosts. They would've both had media presences ranked in the middle otherwise, and everybody would've just laughed at that.

Now that all that's out of the way, the rest of the list:






While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together: