Expansion Project Vol I
Expansion Project Vol II
Tulane University has one of the most unique histories of the expansion candidates. It was originally founded as the Medical College of Louisiana in 1834 to study the diseases that were effecting the region at the time, like Small Pox and Cholera. It was then expanded in 1847 to include a law department and renamed the University of Louisiana.
After being closed during the Civil War, the school reopened in an environment of agricultural depression that put financial strain on the university and the state. At the time Paul Tulane donated a lot of land in New Orleans for expanding education in the area. This became the Tulane Educational Fund to support the University of Louisiana, but in an extreme rare circumstance the Louisiana Legislature transferred control of the university to the administrators of the fund in 1884. In reforming Tulane University of Louisiana like this it is one of very few schools to ever transfer from public to private.
Along that same line of transition, Tulane’s sports have gone through quite a change as well. Their first football game ended with their beating LSU in 1893. Both teams then joined the SIAA, which was a precursor to the current SEC, of which Tulane was not only a founding member, but also won three conference championships in football.
Like shedding their public path, Tulane left the SEC in 1966 due to its frustration with many of the schools compromising academics for athletics. It attempted to create the Magnolia Conference of Southern Ivy’s like Vanderbilt, SMU, Rice, and Duke, but it never came to be, ironically, due to schools wanting to keep their connection to the money provided by staying put.
While it definitely is less of a no-brainer addition for the Big 12 than if they were still the University of Louisiana, Tulane has several positives that the Big 12 is looking for in an expansion candidate. Let’s look at the numbers and see how they compare to the rest.
Tulane actually has one of the strongest rights and licensing scores in the AAC, ranking second behind the University of Connecticut. Like UConn they would still be 9h in the Big 12, ahead of TCU and just behind Baylor. However, there is a sizable gap between Tulane and the middle of the Big 12, which averages closer to $32 million. Some of this definitely could be made up with an increased media deal and added exposure, if Tulane invested well enough to take advantage of that opportunity.
While this is a definite positive for Tulane, it is offset by the size of their enrollment. Tulane has more in common with Baylor and TCU than it does the large state schools in the Big 12 like Iowa State or Texas Tech, not to mention the University of Texas. While not penalized directly for it, the odds that the Big 12 needs another small private school as a member are low. If you look at most of the power conferences they each have at least one private, but not many more. The Big Ten has Northwestern, the SEC has Vanderbilt, the Pac 12 has Stanford/USC and, with the addition of TCU to replace Texas A&M, the Big 12 now has two. The ACC is the only conference with many small private schools within their fold, but their other numbers lag behind as well. Add to this that they share their state with the now mega brand, LSU, it does make life much tougher for them.
Tulane isn’t a bad location for the Big 12. It resides right in the middle of New Orleans, which is the 51st largest DMA in the country, just behind Louisville and Memphis. Additionally, the current partnership between the Big 12 and the SEC places a flag right on New Orleans with the annual Sugar Bowl. Much like Memphis, these are two southern towns the Big 12 is already courting
Unlike the University of Houston, which lies nearly 350 miles due west of the Tulane campus, Tulane does bring a new market to the Big 12. The 4.6 million people in Louisiana, while significantly smaller than Tennessee, Ohio or Pennsylvania, would not only be an addition for any carriage a conference network may need one day, but they are also located in one of the hottest recruiting locations in the nation. Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, ranks eighth in the nation in producing blue chip football recruits (four and five star).
The location score also factors in the distance a candidate is from two points on a map; the geographic center of the Big 12 and Morgantown West Virginia. Tulane does alright with these scores, but doesn’t jump off the page due to how far south they are from West Virginia. Tulane’s campus sits just over 600 miles from the center of the Big 12, but is over 1,000 miles away from Morgantown. Due to this, Tulane does notmake a lot of sense to add on their own if you’re then going to grab a school in another direction, but it definitely fits within any additions up the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys.
If you didn’t believe that Tulane focused on academics over athletics, you will once you see their financial score. Tulane has the lowest revenue in the AAC currently, at $32 million. That is only 42% of the Big 12’s lowest revenue team, Iowa State, who earns $75 million and is increasing steadily.
Additionally, a third of Tulane’s revenues come from subsidies, making it even more difficult to compete at the highest level. Matter a fact, Tulane takes more in subsidies than every other Big 12 school, combined. However, if there is a light of hope for them, they crush the University of Houston financially who, while making $8 million more, spends twice as much on subsidies to get there.
This negative could be overcome if there was some help available in terms of fan participation at sporting events. Unfortunately for Tulane, they sit at the bottom of the AAC in this category as well. They come close to filling Yulman stadium, which opened in 2014. However, with only 30,000 seats, having a 83% utilization means you only are selling 25,000 seats on average. The only game that did sell out since it’s unveiling was the first game against Georgia Tech. The stadium was designed to be easily expanded by about 10,000 seats, but being land locked in New Orleans restricts the university’s ability to grow much past that.
This is a stark contrast from the sixties when Tulane stadium had 80,000 seats and also hosted the Saints. The replacement for that stadium, the Superdome (home of the Sugar Bowl), currently sits about four miles east of campus. If Tulane was ever going to compete with the larger schools in the Big 12 they’d likely need to raise attendance to 50-60,000. That could only occur by moving games back off campus, which goes against their plan to build Yulman Stadium on campus two years ago.
Unfortunately for the Green Wave, attendance for the rest of their sports are not up to Big 12 standards either. The Big 12 averages 10,000 per game in men’s basketball, with the lowest school, TCU, only averaging 5,000. Tulane, on the other hand, averages less than 2,000. The success and investment in the sports just has not been there at the level that is played in the Power Five. When comparing them to other AAC teams, Memphis averages over 16,000 in men’s basketball while UConn is over 10,000 and Cincinnati is over 8,000. Even Temple was around 6,000, which is about twice that of Houston who is nearly twice Tulane’s. There really isn’t a good story to tell here.
The single largest intangible the Tulane has to its advantage is its academic reputation, which it has cultivated for well over a century. Nearly all ranking publications have the school out scoring many nationally, but it also at the top of the Deep South along with Rice.
The most important feather in Tulane’s cap, however, is that they are a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, which includes the strongest research facilities in the country. With a limited membership, these universities still account for the bulk of the U.S. research grants, doctorates awarded, and Nobel Prize recipients. Tulane’s R&D expenditures fall on the lower end of this group, coming in just below Clemson and Texas Tech with $150 million, but its current endowment is $1.2 billion.
Considering there are other schools with the AAU rating who are not Power Five programs, is that enough to warrant membership on its own right? It is hard to quantify, but it needs to be addressed that Tulane has fought against investing in its athletic department several times, most recently around 2003 when discussions took place to move Tulane football to Division III due to concerns about sustaining the program financially. While a subsequent study led directly to the creation of the Presidential Oversight Committee, which ensured the non-Power Five conferences received larger revenues from the BCS and the College Football Playoff, it also led to Tulane having higher academic qualifications for its athletes than many other Power Five programs.
After taking into consideration all the positives and negatives discussed, we start to get a clear picture of the value Tulane brings the Big 12.
Culturally there is definitely a fit with the Big 12, especially if paired with another Mississippi River school like Memphis. Having more consistent exposure along Beale and Bourbon Streets where the Big 12 hosts annual post season match ups could provide a positive boost. Additionally moving the borders of the Big 12 east into not only new markets, but also rich recruiting grounds could have a positive impact for every member.
However, its attendance and financial health are dragging down its score, and there really hasn’t been any indication to show that the fan support is there to rival the Big 12, let alone compete with the top or against LSU. Attendance is so poor that Tulane doesn’t compare favorably to any other AAC schools, except Houston who it outscored, and isn’t even in the discussion with the bottom half of the Big 12.
Like other expansion candidates who are not Power Five programs currently, Tulane may need a decade or more of continued growth of its athletic programs before it is ready to make the jump to the Power Five. Currently, even with all of its advantages, it lacks what it needs to compete on the highest level in multiple sports.
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