College Football Victories Come at a Cost

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By Zach Bigalke

So I’ve been tinkering around with a lot of college statistics lately… you’d think the clock had turned back and I was a high-school senior again or something, the way I’ve been looking at everything from win percentages to academic standards to the revenue that major schools spend on their sports teams.

Now the analysis that follows is by no means conclusive, but at least I think my methodology is sound…

Basically the goal in this week’s statistical analysis was to look at five of the six major conferences in both college football and men’s college basketball (the two sports that both generate the most revenue and swallow that revenue) to determine their relative strength both on and off the field. (I declined to analyze the Big East due to the fact that only half of its members compete in both sports at the top division.) Through my analysis I’ve created two different statistics:

  • COST/WIN — This is sort of a simplification in description. Rather the formula works more like this:
      Revenue ÷ [(wins in football + men's basketball) × win % in both sports] …
    The basic goal is to assess how well that revenue is producing results in the two sports that both produce the most revenue and also use the greatest portion of the expenses, football and men’s basketball. How are the blue-chip athletic departments handling their finances. Are they getting outplayed by the little guys who were expected to have no chance due to the disparity in the playing field?
  • SUCCESS RATE – Success rate weights the figure produced by the cost/win analysis against the graduation success rate the NCAA uses to assess what percentage of kids a school graduated over a rolling six-year window. Using a formula that divides the cost/win from the academic success rate divided by ratio of scholarships granted in each sport per year (85 for football, 13 for basketball).

The numbers came from two sources. First, the NCAA’s report on graduation success rate by sport was the source for graduation rates for each school in football and men’s basketball. School athletic expense data came from USA Today’s report on college finances. All data is for the 2009-10 fiscal year and the seasons which fell during that year (2009 football season, 2009-10 basketball season)…

So how do the top five conferences stack up against one another?

GSR

EXPENSES

COST/WIN

SUCCESS

BIG TEN (10/11 public schools)

67%

81.96

6.42795

9.42364

SEC (11/12 public schools)

62%

81.64

5.44219

9.14866

PAC-10 (8/10 public schools)

59%

59.54

4.57354

8.04735

BIG XII (11/12 public schools)

60%

70.68

4.37520

7.70019

ACC (8/12 public schools)

64%

60.88

3.77809

5.88179

So what does this data mean? The Big Ten spends slightly more than the SEC on its programs, and gets slightly less value for it in terms of wins. But at the same time their success rate is higher in large part because they graduate five percent more of their athletes (which would translate to 29 more kids getting degrees from Big Ten schools than their SEC counterparts over that six-year window.

The Pac-10 graduates fewer football and men’s basketball athletes than any other major conference, but they also spend on average less than any other conference on their programs. Because of this even the mediocre schools from each sport fail to drag it down far enough (especially with Stanford and USC, both top schools, not included in the study due to lack of private-school data).

Even without its four top-shelf private schools — Duke, Boston College, Wake Forest and Miami — included in the data, the ACC graduates more players than all but the Big Ten. Its public-institution member schools spend on average just $1.34 million more than their Pac-10 counterparts on athletic finances. Yet their success rate in general is abysmal when compared to the other conferences.

What does this tell us? Who knows… but it can be fun to think about the proposal that Mike Leach made back when he was still the coach at Texas Tech. When his Red Raiders were tied with Oklahoma and Texas atop the Big XII South standings, and they needed to break the tie to see who would play in the championship game against the top North team, Leach proposed using academic success as a tiebreaker. It would certainly be a novel way to include the student aspect of the student-athlete in the equation…

But let’s take it further. How much is what a school spends on sports indicative of its success on and off the field? What follow are the grades for every one of the public universities from the five conferences included in the study. Consider this a new sort of way of looking at team success in college sports…

FOOTBALL

BASKETBALL

(in millions)

 GSR

W

L

%

GSR

W

L

%

EXPENSESCOST/WINSUCCESSStanford

86%

8

5

0.615

80%

14

18

0.438

0.00000

0.00000

Washington

82%

5

7

0.417

44%

26

10

0.722

61.64

3.07879

4.00055

Cal

65%

8

5

0.615

30%

24

11

0.686

69.35

3.25078

5.38591

Arizona St.

63%

4

8

0.333

60%

22

11

0.667

57.91

3.85496

6.15788

USC

61%

9

4

0.692

42%

16

14

0.533

0.00000

0.00000

Washington St.

60%

1

11

0.083

44%

16

15

0.516

38.05

5.66142

9.78172

Oregon St.

56%

8

5

0.615

64%

14

18

0.438

52.67

4.89700

8.58202

Oregon

54%

10

3

0.769

79%

16

16

0.500

77.86

5.18299

9.04278

UCLA

52%

7

6

0.538

70%

14

18

0.438

61.88

6.31429

11.60976

Arizona

48%

8

5

0.615

20%

16

15

0.516

56.92

4.34806

9.81819

PAC-10

60%

7

6

51%

18

15

59%

59.54

4.57354

8.04735

FOOTBALL

BASKETBALL

(in millions)

Northwestern

95%

8

5

0.615

90%

20

14

0.588

0.00000

0.00000

Penn St.

84%

11

2

0.846

86%

11

20

0.355

88.04

8.00364

9.49814

Iowa

79%

11

2

0.846

55%

10

22

0.313

74.44

7.59592

10.01884

Illinois

76%

3

9

0.250

100%

21

15

0.583

71.96

5.99667

7.57311

Michigan

72%

5

7

0.417

36%

15

17

0.469

89.13

9.80430

14.58442

Indiana

69%

4

8

0.333

62%

10

21

0.323

65.80

14.43571

21.20672

Wisconsin

65%

10

3

0.769

70%

24

9

0.727

92.26

3.67125

5.59102

Ohio St.

63%

11

2

0.846

64%

29

8

0.784

122.74

3.83563

6.07550

Purdue

60%

5

7

0.417

67%

29

6

0.829

58.37

2.37317

3.89501

Minnesota

56%

6

7

0.462

42%

21

14

0.600

78.71

5.18255

9.57199

Michigan St.

55%

6

7

0.462

50%

28

9

0.757

78.16

3.38062

6.22162

BIG TEN

68%

7

5

63%

20

14

67%

81.96

6.42795

9.42364

FOOTBALL

BASKETBALL

(in millions)

Vanderbilt

89%

2

10

0.167

93%

24

9

0.727

0.00000

0.00000

Georgia

68%

8

5

0.615

36%

14

17

0.452

77.25

7.02273

11.01516

Florida

67%

13

1

0.929

44%

21

13

0.618

105.82

4.39391

6.87096

Alabama

67%

14

0

1.000

75%

17

15

0.531

98.96

4.73690

6.95976

LSU

67%

9

4

0.692

50%

11

20

0.355

102.32

11.25520

17.38392

Mississippi St.

64%

5

7

0.417

43%

24

12

0.667

36.27

2.07011

3.38174

Auburn

63%

8

5

0.615

27%

15

17

0.469

90.91

7.73336

13.28198

Kentucky

63%

7

6

0.538

44%

35

3

0.921

79.00

2.28401

3.77650

Mississippi

61%

9

4

0.692

64%

24

11

0.686

45.74

2.01609

3.28364

South Carolina

57%

7

6

0.538

53%

15

16

0.484

78.30

7.11818

12.60538

Arkansas

55%

8

5

0.615

22%

14

18

0.438

71.80

6.67562

13.18707

Tennessee

53%

7

6

0.538

40%

28

9

0.757

111.67

4.55796

8.88915

SEC

65%

8

5

49%

20

13

62%

81.64

5.44219

9.14866

FOOTBALL

BASKETBALL

(in millions)

Missouri

71%

8

5

0.615

44%

23

11

0.676

61.77

3.02101

4.48099

Texas Tech

69%

9

4

0.692

44%

19

16

0.543

59.34

3.63306

5.53115

Kansas St.

69%

6

6

0.500

40%

29

8

0.784

42.34

1.69360

2.59942

Nebraska

68%

10

4

0.714

82%

15

18

0.455

71.74

5.39485

7.72269

Baylor

64%

4

8

0.333

38%

28

8

0.778

0.00000

0.00000

Iowa St.

64%

7

6

0.538

35%

15

17

0.469

46.66

4.33822

7.21197

Colorado

59%

3

9

0.250

43%

15

16

0.484

48.59

6.44867

11.33782

Oklahoma St.

59%

9

4

0.692

92%

22

11

0.667

83.75

4.00884

6.32534

Texas A&M

57%

6

7

0.462

64%

24

10

0.706

75.94

3.96576

6.84594

Kansas

56%

5

7

0.417

80%

33

3

0.917

69.24

2.30161

3.88892

Texas

49%

13

1

0.929

42%

24

10

0.706

130.44

4.57350

9.51397

Oklahoma

44%

8

5

0.615

55%

13

18

0.419

87.68

8.74812

19.24390

BIG XII

60%

7

6

56%

22

12

60%

70.68

4.37520

7.70019

FOOTBALL

BASKETBALL

(in millions)

Duke

95%

3

9

0.250

83%

35

5

0.875

0.00000

0.00000

Boston College

90%

7

6

0.538

88%

15

16

0.484

0.00000

0.00000

Wake Forest

81%

3

9

0.250

100%

20

11

0.645

0.00000

0.00000

Miami

81%

7

6

0.538

73%

20

13

0.606

0.00000

0.00000

Virginia Tech

79%

11

3

0.786

75%

25

9

0.735

55.74

2.06444

2.63089

North Carolina

75%

8

5

0.615

88%

20

17

0.541

72.69

4.63584

6.04219

Virginia

75%

4

8

0.333

36%

15

16

0.484

70.87

8.44158

12.08936

Florida St.

64%

10

4

0.714

73%

22

10

0.688

75.21

3.37857

5.18235

Maryland

64%

9

4

0.692

31%

24

9

0.727

54.66

2.30887

3.87249

Clemson

60%

6

7

0.462

71%

21

11

0.656

56.78

3.50494

5.70287

NC State

56%

9

4

0.692

60%

20

16

0.556

45.88

2.67315

4.72868

Georgia Tech

49%

6

7

0.462

36%

23

13

0.639

55.22

3.21734

6.80550

ACC

65%

7

6

59%

22

12

64%

60.88

3.77809

5.88179

Okay, so that’s a lot of numbers. But the same rules apply as the did in the conference analysis. The less a school is spending relative to their success rate, the better. In a way, you could argue that — while they falter when it comes to football for the most part — the ACC is the best in the country at graduating players and getting victories relative to the amount of money that they spend on sports. Only Virginia — who had a losing record in both football and basketball in the 2009-10 analysis year — was above a 10 success rating.

What are the failings in such a rating? Only that it lacks the depth to properly account for the value of a football win versus a basketball win… which perhaps will be fixed soon enough in a future edition of this column.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this look, which if anything else is illuminating. The cost per win figures are definitely legit, while the success formula could still use some tweaking. Be sure to leave your thoughts and suggestions for future analysis!

Get more great analysis over at the Global Turnstile.

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