Expansion Project Vol I
Expansion Project Vol II
Financial Health Scorecard
ACT II – Part 6
This is just one article of a larger project detailing all of the important factors to consider when looking at Big 12 expansion candidates. Before getting into the details on the financial health of FBS schools, feel free to read the rest here if you haven’t already:
Additionally, this article is wrapping up the findings of two previous articles. If you’d like more details, please review those at your convenience as well:
As detailed in the previous articles there are three main factors I’m looking at to judge the financial health of an athletic department; total revenue, the profit the athletic department retains after subsidies are removed, and the total fan base as it attends three different sports (football and men’s and women’s basketball). While football is clearly the money maker for college athletics, notating fan support each school has over multiple sports shows the breadth and value of that asset. While each school may charge different ticket prices based on performance or just adapting to the local economy, a school with an active and supportive fan base will be more financially secure than one who struggles to fill seats. Each of those separate categories was given a point total, which were compared previously
In this article we’re combining all the points earned from all of those categories and looking at how each of the expansion candidates scored. Adding them up we start to see some interesting patterns emerge.
First, the SEC isn’t just about football. They have solid attendance across numerous sports and this drives their average score higher than any other conference. Additionally, the Big Ten lags behind the Big 12 in terms of average revenue score, which I’ll detail in the next section, but its attendance is far greater than the Big 12’s overall, bringing the two conferences on a similar financial health footing.
Second, below the total FBS average, most of the conferences outside the Power Five struggle to compete not only financially, but also with attendance. This is not a coincidence. Fan support is the primary driver in nearly every aspect of the financial health of an athletic department. If no one attends your games or watches your broadcasts you’re not going to make any money.
To figure out which expansion candidates will add value to the Big 12 we need to see how they perform. Before we do that, however, we need to take a look at the schools within the Power Five conferences to give us a baseline to compare the schools that wish to join them.
Power Five Comparison
It is one thing to slap down a chart of league averages and state so and so is the strongest or the weakest, but that only tells us part of the story. When it comes to financial health of conferences you need to look at the schools that are bound together within that group. One school with a massive athletic department paired with a small school will average out exactly the same as too middle of the road schools. Therefor we need to see how each of the pieces of a conference fit together, especially within the Big 12, in order to see where expansion makes the most sense.
Before I begin talking about each conference, here is a bit of clarification on the following graphs. Within the graphs light blue represents schools who scored within the Top Ten of the Power Five and the dark red represents schools that scored within the Bottom Ten of the Power Five. Brown highlights the Power Five average score, while yellow highlights a specific conference average. Beginning from highest scoring to lowest, that leads us off with the SEC.
It isn’t hard to see why the SEC just slightly grabs first place as 35% of their schools are on the Top Ten list and not a single school ended up in the Bottom Ten. Vanderbilt, the lowest of the SEC schools ranking 52nd in the Power Five, scored 184.6, or 57% of Alabama’s score, who, unsurprisingly, ranked first in the SEC.
With 71% of its member schools ranking above the Power Five average, it is easy to see why it is the only conference that averaged over 250. Matter a fact, while four of its teams scored over 300, which was unique to the SEC, 65% of the SEC scored higher than 250. The Big Ten had 50% of its teams score over that same threshold, while the Big 12 had 30%. Only four teams in the SEC scored under the Power Five average and one of those was Auburn who struggled a bit with some attendance and had a large expense this reporting period. Normally they’d be higher.
Regardless, the SEC is full of athletic departments that have been grooming their fan bases for decades and reaping the rewards now.
The Big 12
It is likely a surprise to many that the second highest scoring conference on the list is the Big 12, who came in at 93% of the SEC’s average score. A lot of factors contributed to this, but in general the Big 12’s strength came not from being the largest, but instead from being the most consistent of the Power Five conferences from top to bottom.
While the Big 12 had 20% of its teams in the Top Ten of scoring, the remaining eight teams were all within about 50 points of each other. Strong financials per school and high attendance across multiple sports had the Big 12 mimicking the SEC, just to a fraction less. Had another school reached the Top Ten in the Big 12 the two conferences would likely have nearly tied, especially with neither conference having a single team in the Bottom Ten.
TCU was the lowest scoring school in the Big 12, largely due to having lower attendance as a private school. Baylor and TCU, without expansion of their football stadiums, will always hover around the middle of the pack. Even with a 45,000 seat football stadium, TCU finished 44th in the Power Five, with a league high 65.12% of Texas’ point total as the Big 12’s highest scoring team.
Compared to the Big Ten and SEC, the Big 12 lags behind in schools who score around 250, which generally happens when financials reach about $100 million and attendance stays strong. They are making up ground by not having any financial weaknesses, but in order to make the next step multiple Big 12 schools, be it via internal growth or expansion, will need to fill that void.
The Big Ten
The Big Ten is a solid example of why expansion does not always benefit everyone equally. Adding Maryland and Rutgers may have helped the Big Ten Network, but the performance of those schools dropped the Big Ten’s year over year average considerably.
Unlike the SEC and Big 12, who had no teams in the Bottom Ten, the Big Ten has three teams show up in that ranking. Rutgers, Maryland and Northwestern all scored below 170 and Purdue and Illinois gave the Big Ten five teams, or 35.71% of the conference, who scored lower than TCU. Unlike the Big 12, where the lowest scoring team is 65% of the highest, the lowest scoring team in the Big Ten is 41.5% of the highest.
Even with that the Big Ten’s average was only four points below the Big 12’s largely due to the performance of the larger brands in the conference. With half the conference scoring above 250, the Big Ten is clearly a conference of haves and have nots. Two massive brands, Ohio State and Michigan, land in the Top Ten, equaling the Big 12 in count, but lagging behind the Big 12 in percent of conference by about 6%. Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State, however provide a solid nucleus of six brands that the Big 12 needs some growth to rival.
This is why the Big Ten could afford to take on some projects in Maryland and Rutgers, neither program was introduced to live within the top half of the conference in terms of financial strength. Without those two schools the Big Ten averages 256 points, which would land them solidly between the SEC and Big 12. That is a five percent drop in scoring averages due to expanding with two teams that don’t perform well.
Even within the differences between the SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten, those three conferences still reside in their own tier above the rest of the Power Five. The ACC comes in a distant fourth, about 40 points on average below the Big Ten. Looking at their graph and it becomes clear why.
The first thing that stands out within the scoring is that the ACC only has a team in the Top Ten of the Power Five scoring if Notre Dame is considered a conference team instead of an independent. This also has an effect on the second detail in the chart, the ACC only has three teams, including Notre Dame, above the Power Five Average. The SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten all have 65-70% of their teams above the average, while the ACC only has 20%, 15% if you remove Notre Dame.
This also highlights why the Big Ten was able to expand with two smaller schools, they had the financial power with other universities to balance it out. The ACC is designed nearly the opposite of the Big Ten, Big 12 and the SEC. While those three conferences have many large state universities, the ACC is filled with either smaller public universities or private schools. Like the Big Ten, the ACC has three members fall into the Bottom Ten in scoring within the Power Five. However, unlike the Big Ten, the top half of the ACC is similar in scoring to the bottom half of the Big 12. TCU, the lowest scoring team in the Big 12, had a higher score than the ACC’s conference average when you include Notre Dame.
All in all though, what may be most surprising is that the bulk of the ACC’s members resemble each other. The lowest scoring team is 48% of the highest, which, while not as strong as the SEC or Big 12, is more consistent than the Big Ten.
The Pac 12
When looking at the numbers, no conference is more unique than the Pac 12. It has a geographic advantage that none of the other conferences have, controlling two entire time zones, and has some large schools in major metros, like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Phoenix, and Denver. However, at the same time attendance for nearly all of the schools is dreadful and their financials reflect that. The vast majority of the Pac 12 schools operate on massive subsidies. As a matter a fact, only four of the Pac 12’s schools operated in the black when you look at their profit after subsidies. Colorado and Arizona State were down around ten to twelve million while Oregon State and Washington State lost more than twenty million.
In short, the schools have size and demographic advantages like the Big Ten and SEC, but they’re athletic finances and attendance resemble that of the ACC. The Pac 12 was the only conference to have four schools in the Bottom Ten of the Power Five. I had adjusted the axis of the graphs so that a score of 100 was the minimum. This helped make the differences between the schools were more noticeable. However, doing this made it so Washington State and its score of 73.5, the only Power Five school to score below 100, fell off the graph. Expansion schools Utah and Colorado performed horribly, ranking 56th and 60th in the Power Five respectively.
No other conference has such a vast divide between the haves and the have nots as the Pac 12. The top half of the conference is financially strong, but the lower half performs so badly that the trend line from top to bottom is the steepest in the Power Five. Washington State, the lowest scoring team in the Pac 12, is a stunning 25.8% of the highest scoring team, Oregon. The bottom of the Pac 12 is so far off of the top of the league that not only did Oregon make more in donations than the five lowest Pac 12 schools each earned in total revenue, their scoring resembled the AAC (96.86) and MWC (72.98) more closely than it did Pac 12 (202.38).
Non-Power Five Results
It is when looking at the conferences outside the Power Five when we start to see why the Big 12 may or may not expand. What it needs are schools who add to the top end of the financial health scores, but what everyone assumes they will add are at the opposite end. In the chart below I’ve laid out not only the highest scoring Non-Power Five schools, but also how they compare to the Power Five Average (brown), the average of the Bottom Ten teams in the Power Five (red), and the averages of both the AAC and MWC conferences.
BYU is the only school that has the finances and attendance figures to rival most Power Five schools, coming in right at the Power Five average. Even with that benefit, their score would also rank them seventh in the Big 12. The rest of the non-Power Five schools lag behind considerably and none even come close to that average. Some schools, however, do show some promise, especially when compared to the Bottom Ten teams in the Power Five. Temple actually out performs the Bottom Ten average, ranking higher than Wake Forest, Colorado, Boston College, Rutgers, Oregon State, and Washington State. Other schools that come up often in expansion talk, UConn and Memphis, also outscored Oregon State and Washington State.
This indicates that some of these schools, with a higher level of competition in multiple sports, could compete at a Power Five level. Temple is particularly interesting as it was removed from the Big East at one point for lacking support. The current administration has gone a long way to rebuild the athletic department and, with 37,000 students, it has the potential to sustain that success, much like UConn and Memphis.
On the other hand, some scores show us that the transition to the Power Five could be difficult for many schools. Tulane and Houston score very poorly in both financial health and attendance. Both have quite a bit of work to do to grow support over multiple sports in order to compete with even the bottom of the Power Five, let alone Texas and Oklahoma. Cincinnati and Central Florida, while not as bad off as Tulane and Houston, still have to increase the consistency of their fan support to the level most Power Five schools obtain.
At the end of the day, it is this fan support that will bring value to the Big 12. You cannot assume that the Big 12 will bring fans to a school, even if it does increase excitement within a university. There has to be a fan base there to energize, otherwise expansion would be a wasted endeavor. To add value to the Big 12 a school needs to either score high, preferably above 250, but at a minimum above 200. The higher the scores the Big 12 adds in expansion, when tied with organic growth within the conference, is how the Big 12 will compete in the long run with the SEC and Big Ten. Add low scoring teams to the conference, however, and, as the above numbers show, the Big 12 will begin to resemble the ACC.
©2016 Number Monkey Media