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Television is driving all of conference realignment.
Whether it’s the Longhorn Network that precipitated last year’s slate of realignment or the massive rights deal recently inked by the SEC that set rights fees soaring into the stratosphere, television is the driving force behind the seismic shifts in college athletics.
But most of these shifts are relatively small, that is, most conferences have plenty of anchor teams that clearly aren’t going to relocate for a bigger paycheck.
And with the rights fees explosion in college athletics we’re talking about the SEC, Pac 12, ACC, Big Ten, Big East, and Big 12 bringing in around $1.2 billion dollars a year in total rights fees for all sports.
That sounds like a lot, but all of college footbal is still $700 million less a year than ESPN pays for Monday Night Football by itself. Indeed, the NFL’s 32 teams bring in nearly $5 billion a year in television revenue.
But all of this television, markets, and desirability talk in the world of college expansion got me thinking: What if TV executives could build the killer app, a 16 team college football conference that covered the entire country? This 16 team conference would be designed like the NFL’s AFC or NFC, four divisions of four teams each.
It would feature the sixteen best national draws in the country, the teams that would maximize revenues like no other. In considering these draft picks, I used USA Today’s database of overall revenues, which you can find here. and I also used state population data which you can find here. The USA Today list gives you a rough approximation of where the college football fan bases are the most fervent — that’s making the reliable assumption that whoever makes the most money has the craziest fans and the largest fan bases. I combined that revenue data with a rough approximation of location — we want to include the entire country of college football fans — , near by markets — big city schools equal top television ratings — , and a “brand value” that values national interest in particular teams.
I’m calling my conference the “Making It Rain 16” — MIR 16 — for short.
Then I thought, what if those teams were drafted for the conference 1-16?
Who would the teams be in a conference and what order would they be picked?
A no-brainer first overall pick. Texas put up $150 million in revenue in 2010-11. Obviously television will be a big part of that revenue stream going forward, but what jumps out at you when you look at the data? Texas did over $60 million in ticket revenue in 2011.
To put that in context, Michigan, with the biggest stadium in college football did just over $40 million.
So Texas made $20 million more than Michigan off ticket revenue.
Putting that in further context, Texas has more ticket revenue than Texas Tech did in total athletic revenues.
We don’t even need to consider the 25 million people in the state to make them number one.
The Gators come in at number four in overall revenue and boast the lion’s share fan base of the nation’s fourth most populous state.
The only reasonable question about the Sunshine State will be whether or not it deserves more than one team in our sixteen team conference.
Southern Cal is the top college brand in the nation’s largest state. As if that wasn’t enough USC is also located in the country’s second largest media market, a city that right now doesn’t have an NFL team.
While USC’s revenues likely pale in comparision to other top programs — as a private school it isn’t required to make its finances public — there’s no doubting that USC belongs in the top three.
The nation’s largest stadium, a national fan base, and a state population that ranks number eight in the country. There’s no doubt that Michigan and Ohio State are the Big Ten’s two most valuable brands by a substantial margin.
5. Ohio State
Which is why Ohio State is number five in the Making It Rain 16.
Locking in Michigan and Ohio State gives you most midwestern football fans.
And you can quibble, as I’m sure they will, over whether Ohio State or Michigan should have been drafted first.
The Crimson Tide has experienced a football renaissance under Nick Saban.
Think Bama overpaid when it gave Saban $4 million a year? You’re a fool. Overall athletics revenue has nearly doubled, from just $68 million a year in 2006 to nearly $125 million in 2011.
That’s all Saban
The Tide have a major national brand, but are in the nation’s 23rd largest state. Which means this is a bit of a reach at number six.
7. Penn State
The Nittany Lions may be embroiled in scandal right now, but they their market and it’s important to reach in, if only a bit, to the east coast when you can.
And Penn State does that better than any team thus far.
It’s a fallacy, by the way, that the location and markets of a team matters exclusively. If it did then Rutgers would have already been selected.
People in New York City aren’t going to watch because Rutgers plays, but they may watch top brands which draw national attention.
Penn State is also the sixth largest athletic department in the country.
The Bulldogs are in a rapidly growing state, the nation’s ninth largest has added nearly two million people in the past ten years, and boast solid SEC bona fides.
When you can get in a top ten state with a major college football program that owns that state, you do it.
9. Notre Dame
The Golden Domers slide in the top ten because they have the largest fan base on the east coast of any of these teams. While television ratings have not been stellar, that’s often because Notre Dame is playing weak opponents.
What’s more, Illinois is the nation’s fifth largest state and the Ilini is simply not worthy of inclusion. Notre Dame gives you Indiana and Illinois plus the national brand and it further solidifies Big Ten country.
10. North Carolina
I know, I know, North Carolina isn’t very good at football.
But the point is, North Carolina should be good at football. And eventually I think they’re going to be very good.
The Tar Heels are in a state that’s exploding in population and North Carolina is a major national brand with no real football competition in the state. Wake Forest? Duke? N.C. State?
UNC’s the pick.
(FYI, I considered Virginia and Virginia Tech here, but I don’t believe either school has anywhere near the national brand as North Carolina).
This is a football brand selection.
Plus, it doubles down in Florida, meaning that our three biggest states for college football — California, Florida, and Texas all end up with two teams each.
I went with Miami over Florida State as the second team in Florida because the Hurricanes have more national cachet.
12. Texas A&M
This one may be controversial, but I think you double down in the best markets for your sport.
Texas has 25 million people and several top states including New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts are not going to be included in our roster of teams.
So why not lock in two teams from the state of Texas?
I contemplated Oregon here, but the state isn’t very big and it’s likely that if Chip Kelly left Oregon football could descend back in to mediocrity.
I also considered Washington, Stanford, California, and the Arizona schools, but ultimately I think UCLA, even if it’s also in Los Angeles, is worth the second most on the west coast pick.
UCLA has the best national brand of the remaining Pac 12 schools and it doubles down on California with the second most valuable team in the state.
This was a tough call over Washington.
The eighth biggest athletic program, a large state population that is rabid for football, and a strong national brand as a top ten winningest all-time program, now all the school needs is a competent coach to return to past glory.
Right now the Vols are in year three of their own Mike Shula experiment.
Remember what happened when Bama fired Shula?
Look out, the dump truck theory is about to get deployed and somebody big is about to get paid.
We’re out of decent sized population states and now we’re selecting based on top brands.
I was torn on deciding between Oklahoma and Nebraska, but ultimately chose Oklahoma because I believe the Sooners are presently the better national brand and because Oklahoma, the ninth higest revenue producer in college athletics, does $20 million more a year in revenue.
Every top ten revenue program in the SEC — with the exception of Auburn — is now in the MIR 16.
LSU has a better national brand than Auburn and the state of Alabama is simply too small of a state to take two teams.
In the SEC, there’s a big drop off from LSU to Arkansas and South Carolina so the Bayou Bengals get the call as our 16th team.
So here’s our ranking of the 16 most valuable teams for a single conference based on revenues, state population, and national brand.
How much would this conference be worth for television? Considering that these schools are at the top of conferences making around $1.2 billion a year, this group would be worth at least $500 million a year. Potentially as much as $750 million a year.
Just missed the MIR 16 cut in no particular order:
Virginia or Virginia Tech