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Another offseason, another conversation about college football and money

Can the Group Five continue to compete with the Power Five, or is it all beyond repair?

Rynearson Stadium at Sunset
Kenneth Bailey

It was recently reported by Stadium’s Brett McMurphy that the Southeastern Conference (SEC) will be sharing $43.1 million dollars with each of its member institutions, not including the money that each school receives for participating in a bowl. This money includes television revenue and other shared licensing agreement, although it is rumored these payouts may decrease with the diffusion of television revenue.

With that money, each school can improve their facilities and recruiting budgets (amongst other things). Which in turn means that they can recruit better athletes which means the gap of resources ultimately widens between the Power Five and Group Five.

For comparison sake, a couple years ago, Eastern Michigan announced that it would be making major renovations to its athletic and recreational facilities, totaling $76 million. In order to build that, Eastern Michigan will have to take out bonds, pound the pavement for donations and even depend on state monies to try and get the facility built. Alabama, meanwhile, announced a $600 million athletic facility upgrade which has already reached twice the total amount of EMU’s total projected cost in donor cash alone ($143 million.)

It’s something which many outlets, ourselves included, have harped on in the past: the widening gap between what are technically peer institutions. But it’s gotten more and more evident that this schism is eventually going to be insurmountable.

Our mother site, SB Nation, recently got into the fray about financial affordability of certain Division I programs, and to no particular surprise, the MAC registered three of the 12 teams considered for a hypothetical drop due to financial and/or performance worries (as well as being the only FBS level programs mentioned.)

In the piece, which contains certain realignment elements, Matt Brown makes a more primary and cutting point that the math is simply getting to be entirely too much for Group of Five and other FCS level schools, although the MAC inevitably becomes the whipping boy in this particular example.

It’s certainly a valid one to argue, given the above example of conference and playoff payouts adversely rewarding Power Five teams regardless of affiliation or performance over the past season. A team like 2-10 Arkansas, for instance, receives the same allocated monies (~$43M/season) from the conference and the Playoff committee as would SEC Champion Alabama, while most MAC schools struggle to run their entire athletic programs with maybe half that money, as most MAC schools average around $20M for a budget... assuming they’re not running at a deficit.

The American Athletic Conference, a former “Power” conference is perhaps the most important example of this gap. The average coaching salary has crawled closer to $2M as the conference gains notoriety for producing good P5 coaching candidates. But even despite that success and placing a team in the New Year’s Six bowl the last two seasons, member programs like UConn operate at a $40M deficit and schools still split a pre-determined amount of money (approximately $16.4M from a pre-determined pool of $84.32M for Group of Five conferences as of 2017-2018, per Forbes) 12 ways, resulting in each school getting approximately $1.355M. For comparison sake, each school in the MAC gets around $1 million.

I am not sure what the future will bring but I am pretty sure it is not going to be pretty for the Group Five teams. Especially with further tightening of state budgets and students having to foot a bigger share of the athletic bill. Will there come a point when the Group Five teams have enough enough and further split Division I?

Currently, there’s ongoing litigation to determine the fate of of the NCAA’s famous amateurism laws, which are unique in the world of sport, in Alston vs. NCAA and it’s looking more and more likely that something big could happen before the end of the calendar year. If Alston does indeed win the suit, the gap could become less about facilities and more about how much each school can pay its athletes. I’m not sure what paying athletes would look like, but even a modest sum of $10,000/player would mean another million dollars to already strained athletic budgets under the microscope.

Change may not come in this particular offseason, but eventually, college football will have to have a reckoning with itself in regards to what it will look like in the future.

As long as schools look upon the FBS as the symbol of having “made it”, they won’t be making the tough decisions in the immediate future. However, given the pressures on the schools for other reasons, they may have to decide the FBS is no longer worth the effort, especially if Power Five conferences don’t see the benefit of having their Group of Five peers in the room.

And if that’s the case, then we’re doomed to talk about this issue ad nauseum until the G5 is kicked out of the room.


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