If you're a college football fan, you probably adhere to some brand of the Al Davis doctrine: "Just win, baby."
But big-time college powerhouses are run like big businesses: They recruit, spend millions of dollars a year, and usually turn a profit. So if there were a BCS of profitable college football teams, who would come out on top?
To get a handle on that answer, we compared college expenses and revenues of this year's BCS top 25 squads using 2007 data from the Department of Education (2008 isn't available yet). Four of the top 25 BCS teams are private – No. 5 University of Southern California, No. 6 Texas Christian University, No. 19 Miami, and No. 23 Notre Dame – so they don't have to report their data. Of the remaining 21 teams, here are our top picks by biggest profits, wins per dollar, and lowest spending per player.
Bottom line superstars
When belts are tightening in athletic departments, it's often the case of the rich getting richer (football, basketball programs) while the poor get poorer (Olympic sports) . That doesn't mean football programs are impervious to attack. But when you can turn a $52.9 million profit like No. 3 University of Texas did in 2007, that certainly helps the cause.
This year's athletic Top 3 were also the most profitable among the top 25 BCS programs (in order: Texas, Florida, and the No. 2 University of Alabama). No. 9 LSU, No. 12 Penn State, and No. 22 South Carolina all posted solid profits in the mid $30 million range.
Only one school in the Top 25, the University of Houston, lost money in 2007: just over $2 million.
The main discriminator here seems to have less to do with performance and more to do with the size of a team's home turf. Stadiums with 100,000-plus seats, like those at Ohio State and Texas (and even "smaller" 90,000-plus arenas like those at LSU and Alabama), were tickets to big financial returns. By contrast, only one of the 12 teams that made $15 million or less in profit had a stadium larger than 70,000 seats (No. 24 University of California – Berkeley).
Wins and dollars
In terms of consistency, No. 3 Texas, No. 13 Virginia Tech, and No. 17 Ohio State stand out as the only programs to have won at least 10 games per season since 2005 and earned big profits – $52 million, $12 million, and $32 million respectively. But how can you overlook the University of Florida, with two of the three most recent national championships sitting in its trophy case and perennial No. 1 in college football rankings, BCS or otherwise? It's hard to argue that anyone else gets more from their athletic dollar: second most revenue at over $47 million and middle-of-the-pack expenses at just under $19 million in 2007.
But counting wins per dollar, No. 7 Boise State comes out on top. Spending just under $7 million, the Broncos have put the hurt on much larger schools (famously beating Oklahoma and it's 2007 expenses of $40 million). Incidentally, No. 4 Iowa is considered by some a minor Cinderella story, but its expenses of $26 million-plus are higher than every Top 25 school except Ohio State ($33 million), making them the least efficient school for the money.
Lowest costs per player
Yes, nontraditional powers like Boise State ($7,368 per player) and No. 18 University of Houston ($9,341) have low costs. But the bigger surprise is venerable Joe Paterno and Penn State, who spend only $9,136 per player.
And the most thrifty? No. 25 'Ole Miss, at $5,814 per player.
When it comes to highest cost per player, though, the University of Oregon is far-and-away the king at $61,972 per player. The Oregon gravy train is engineered by alum Phil Knight, Nike co-founder and chairman, who keeps the Ducks in fresh duds every season. Behind the Ducks are Tim Tebow and Co. at Florida, where per player spending came in at $48,092.
But when you make a habit of raising the crystal national championship hardware in January, even a big per player expenditure doesn't dent your halo as college football's top squad by the dollar. It might even enhance it in the eyes of potential recruits.
Just win, baby.