The Business Behind College Football

By Brandon Smith | February 24, 2022

For decades, NCAA FBS College Football has been a competitive league featuring teams competing to bring a championship trophy back home to their respective campuses. What makes these games even more entertaining to watch is knowing that the young men on each team are college students, taking classes off the field while competing to live out their dreams of being drafted while on the field. However, in recent years we have seen an apparent change in college football operations. Teams such as Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, and a select few others have risen to college football stardom as they are serious contenders to win a championship every year, whereas other teams such as UConn, Vanderbilt, and UMass have virtually no chance of winning over half of their games, let alone winning the National Championship. This dominance from SEC teams goes beyond winning championships though. On draft night, a vast majority of draft selections come from SEC, Big 10, or ACC schools, with other teams outside of these Power 5 conferences seeing hardly any of their players drafted. With this in mind, is college football equally competitive anymore? Why can’t other teams emerge to stardom like Alabama and Georgia? And most importantly, what makes the aforementioned teams of the most elite caliber every year?

The answer to this question is simple. College football is a business. There is a clear formula that continues to bolster SEC and Big 10 teams to the top of the food chain. Let’s take Alabama for example. Alabama has won the National Championship game six times in the last twelve years and has appeared in the game nine times in the last twelve years. The formula begins with the hiring of Head Coach Nick Saban. When Coach Saban was hired, he had a top-tier reputation from his days coaching at LSU and for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL. His background, along with the money the University of Alabama funneled into their football program, attracted many young athletes who were seen as the best in the nation. With a blank check and the promise of Coach Saban in charge, five star recruits were flocking, and continue to flock to Alabama more so than any other team in the NCAA. Since the dawn of the Saban era, Alabama has spent more money recruiting players and offering scholarships than any other team in the nation. In fact, in the most recent fiscal year, the University of Alabama allocated $173,648,028 into their athletic programs (football being the chief recipient of these funds). In addition, Alabama had the most athletes drafted to the NFL in the 2021 draft. When a seventeen year old high school football player attends Alabama for his visit, and he is made aware of the hefty scholarship he will receive, along with the high possibility of getting drafted into the NFL and winning a National Championship, the decision to attend Alabama over a school such as Fresno State is a no brainer (Fresno State spends less than one-eight on their football program than Alabama does).

Alabama is one of the numerous examples of college football teams spending an abundance of their respective university’s money on their football program. These schools have decided to view college football as a business, and their financial investment has yielded the results they sought out for. The athletic budget for big-name Power 5 schools is far superior to that of schools from less competitive conferences, hence the repetitive results we see every January when Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and Clemson are at the cusp of winning yet another National Championship.

Though there are a select few examples of NFL stars who were not offered generous athletic scholarships during their college days (for example, Green Bay Packers’ MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers), the amount of NFL draftees who played for elite programs with high athletic budgets, and who run their program as a business as opposed to a team is fastly decreasing. Until colleges like UMass, UConn, and other less successful football teams can invest a substantial amount of money into their program and operate as a business, we will continue to see the National Championship trophy returning to Tuscaloosa, Alabama essentially every year.

Edited by Joseph Barbieri