SALT LAKE CITY — You can tally passing yards, sacks and interceptions all you want, but the most important numbers for college football aren’t found on the stat sheet; they’re on the spread sheet and they have dollar signs. Score it: Texas A&M $148 million, Texas $133 million, Michigan and Alabama $127 million.
That’s annual football revenues. Talk about a good return.
There is the top-25 football poll, and then there is the other top-25 that most fans ignore. Forbes recently listed the top 25 most valuable college football programs in 2018, based on football revenues.
The Forbes list reveals a mind-boggling flow of money and a wide gulf between the rich and everyone else. The top 11 programs pull in well over $100 million. Four of the schools collect more than double the revenues taken in by No. 25 Texas Tech. They are the Rothschilds and Rockefellers of the gridiron, overseeing their own monopoly.
It would be difficult to overstate the effect this wealth and the disparity of wealth have on the game we see on the field. The schools at the top of the Forbes list have such a huge advantage over the rest of college football’s 130 FBS schools that they’re really playing two (or even three) different games.
The small, rich upper class is so far ahead of college football’s middle class and even further ahead of the lower class that the latter two classes should revolt and break away to form their own competition and postseason — especially when you consider that more than half the field is shut out of a playoff system that’s rigged to favor the few rich schools already.
- Twelve of the top 15 schools in this week's AP poll are on the Forbes list.
- The top 20 schools on the Forbes list have won 23 of the last 25 national titles — the lone exceptions being Miami in 2001 and Clemson in 2016 (it should be noted that Clemson barely missed making the list — the school ranks 26th in total athletic department revenue). Five of the "Forbes" schools account for 16 of those 25 championships.
- The Forbes list consists entirely of Power 5 schools, with 10 from the SEC, seven from the Big Ten, three from the Big 12, three from the Pac-12, one from the ACC and one independent (independent Notre Dame is officially treated as an at-large Power 5 member).
And the rich keep getting richer, as everyone who follows the game knows by now. Each year they widen the gap on the have-nots because everything is stacked in favor of the schools on the Forbes list. They have a clear and exclusive path to the national playoffs, they get the richest TV deals, and they have access to the top bowl games, all of which reap millions of dollars and national exposure for both the participating schools and their fellow conference members. In other words, barring dramatic changes, the have-nots are falling further and further behind and will not close the gap. Ever.
The have-nots have not any realistic hope of winning a national championship. Ever.
The College Football Playoff was billed as the equalizer, the format for bringing equity to the game. That’s nonsense. It was easier for non-P5 schools to qualify for a meaningful bowl game and have a shot at a national title before the creation of the playoffs and, for that matter, the BCS, going back to 1998. BYU’s unbeaten 1984 national championship team would have no chance of winning the title in today’s system.
The money and prestige afford the P5 schools special treatment, none more than Alabama. The Crimson Tide, winners of six national championships in the last 25 years, can play a dreadful non-conference schedule annually — this year it consists of Louisville, Arkansas State (not to be confused with Arkansas), Louisiana-Lafayette (not to be confused with Louisiana State) and The Citadel — because they know they’ll get respect on reputation alone. Their schedule is ranked 44th in the country and no one cares; they’re old-moneyed members of the club.
Alabama and the other members of the $100 million club play in a different world than most of their competitors. They have (much) more money for coaches, more money for travel, more money for recruiting, more money for facilities.48 comments on this story
How does Utah stack up? The Utes were admitted to the exclusive P5 club in 2011 when they joined the Pac-12. A state audit released in June 2017 showed they had $54 million in revenues from football with total athletic department revenues of nearly $84 million. That’s more than double the Utes’ first year in the league — but also only about 50th nationally, where 31 athletic departments collect between $100 and $215 million. The Utes have not been able to mount much of a threat on the field in the Pac-12.
It’s all about the money.