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What It Takes to be Consistently Successful in College Football

Here it is folks.  The topic of finances and where Florida State stands as a football program, athletic program and an institution has been a popular subject over the past few months as discussed here, here, here, here and here. The following is an analysis and recap intended to show where FSU currently stands financially and how it stacks up against other schools nationally and within our own conference.

I am in the camp of thought that in this day and age of college football there are 2 critical factors into having a consistently successful program, (1) a leadership group that understands what it takes to run a football program and (2) a substantial amount of income.  I understand that there are other smaller factors that play into a team’s success or lack thereof (i.e. location, competition and academic standards).   I will attempt to show that in this day and age of football it in near impossible to succeed on a consistent basis without both of those factors.

In a recent FanShot there was conversation of how a school’s total worth is related to the funds put towards athletics.  The following comments are from noles55:

What the average fan doesn't get is it is ALL (endowments, academics and athletics) tied together to a point. When it comes to college athletics, a rising tide raises all boats. It is a mistake to look at ‘wealth’ in a football vacuum IMHO. This is a mindset FSU ALWAYS makes. IE, ‘well, we will just get rich in football and the rest will sort itself out’. It doesn’t work that way in college athletics. The biggest richest school are almost always rich everywhere else. I doubt FSU ever gets this, but it is what holds FSU back…..including in football

I have to admit when I first wrote this article I was looking at everything in a "football vacuum" but then realized if there are many more financial factors that come into play.  While there is no concrete formula to a winning and successful football program there are some common traits that that each successful football team has.

After the jump we will take a look and see how FSU ranks on a national level.

The first chart shows teams ranked in the order of how many times they finished Top 10 in the final BCS rankings over the last 10 years with the school’s gross athletics revenue and total endowment funds (remember final rankings come out prior to bowl season).   It is then followed by a breakdown of why a school has or has not been successful over the last decade.


All revenues attributable to intercollegiate athletic activities. This includes revenues from appearance guarantees and options, contributions from alumni and others, institutional royalties, signage and other sponsorships, sport camps, state or other government support, student activity fees, ticket and luxury box sales, and any other revenues attributable to intercollegiate athletic activities.


Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC are at the top with 7 Top 10 finishes and to no one’s surprise these teams are run by coaches who lets say "get it", some more than others.  While I think Jim Tressel at OSU is a good enough coach to compete in the Big 10, he is employed by a school that makes a small fortune and can cover any flaws he might have.  USC and Oklahoma are not cash cows when it comes to football revenue but are in the top half with regards to endowments.  Both teams benefited from other circumstances.  Oklahoma has an excellent coach in Stoops and was able to pretty much land many prized recruits in the Midwest and dominate the Big 12 while Texas was still trying to "figure it out" and Nebraska imploded.  Pete Carroll brought USC to a whole other level not because he had the most money but due to other circumstances, his relentless recruiting efforts and the severe lack of competition from any other school in California or the Pac 10.

Florida, Texas and Miami are all next with 5 Top 10 finishes.  Texas is in a whole other stratosphere when it comes to the amount of money they bring in, Big Oil helps fund that school and while they struggled in the first half of the decade they finally figured out the best way to leverage the money and now spare no expense to be the best team in the nation which includes hiring the best coaches and having the best of everything else.  Florida’s program followed the same track as Texas with the signing of Urban Meyer along with Jeremy Foley and company figuring out the best way to use their money (FSU’s and UM’s mismanagement also helped immensely).   Miami is an outlier here and it is pretty easy to see why, the majority of their success came in the early part of the decade when teams like Texas, UF and LSU had to yet see the light and playing in the Big East also benefited them greatly.

Georgia and Virginia Tech each have 4 Top 10 finishes and I believe that these 2 schools do just enough to keep their fans happy.  Neither school is extremely passionate about football to the extent of other SEC programs.   While having sufficient funds Mark Richt at Georgia is in the mold of Bobby Bowden, he is lazy and unwilling to put in the laborious hours to be elite.  While VT has good coaching they are not dedicated financially to bring that school to a high level, as long as they keep their 10 win season streak alive they will be content.

LSU, Auburn, Oregon and Boise State round out the next group with 3 Top 10 finishes.  When looking at LSU you have to think of them in two time periods, with and without Nick Saban.  They were an elite program under him with 2 of the Top 3 finishes under his reign and the 3rd was the year after he left and Les Miles reaped the benefits of the monster that he created there.  LSU still makes an exorbitant amount of football money but with Miles at the helm they have yet to see similar results.  Auburn is a team that is content with being second best; they are on the high end of the spectrum when it comes to revenue although they had decent coaching they basically flourished while in-state Alabama was in turmoil.  While having good coaching and a blank check from Nike, Oregon has had limited success primarily due to location and USC's Pac 10 dominance.  Then there is Boise State, this one is a no brainer, play absolutely the easiest schedule possible and dumb voters think you are good.

There are a handful of teams that each had 2 Top 10 finishes in the last decade.  Alabama, again you have to look at this one as pre and post Nick Saban, they had the money prior to him coming but zero coaching, insert the best in the business and you now have duplicated the LSU juggernaut.  While Penn State had the funds to be successful their coaching was severely lacking to say the least, it wasn’t until Joe Paterno turned over the keys and let more knowledgeable coaches step in to right the ship.  Notre Dame has more money than they know what to do with and while I don’t think Weis was a bad coach he was handcuffed by the stringent academic requirements and could therefore not get the needed athletes to become an elite program.   Nebraska stumbled throughout the last decade due to the fact that they thought that they could live off the past successes of Tom Osborne, they made lazy coaching hires and while they made a good amount of money it was not enough to compensate for it.  Michigan is similar to Notre Dame in the fact that they have tough admission standards and were basically run by a coach who hasn’t surprisingly found work since being fired.  I don’t see Michigan rising to elite status again and that seems to be fine by Michigan fans since the only thing they care about is one game a year (OSU).   Tennessee had a good program but then Philip Fulmer got lazy and thought he could live off of past accolades, the lack of leadership despite sufficient funds caused the team to take a step back.  For an analysis on Utah please refer back to Boise State. 

Now on to FSU, they were near the bottom with regards to revenue of schools in a BCS conference coupled with the hands down worse coaching staff in the country.  That is of course a recipe for disaster and why we now refer to the 2000’s as the "lost" decade. 

The next chart will give you an idea of some schools that compare to FSU with regards to total athletic revenues:


It is difficult for me believe that we can consistently compete with elite teams when we are outspent by teams like Syracuse and Arizona State and barely outspending the likes of WVU and Michigan State.

Let’s now take a look at how FSU stacks up against other schools with regards to expenses both football and total athletics.


All expenses attributable to intercollegiate athletic activities. This includes appearance guarantees and options, athletically related student aid, contract services, equipment, fundraising activities, operating expenses, promotional activities, recruiting expenses, salaries and benefits, supplies, travel, and any other expenses attributable to intercollegiate athletic activities.

The first thing to note is that expenses are pretty directly related to revenue, the more you make in this business the more you can afford to spend. As you can see FSU ranks near the bottom in football expenses as well as revenue, just above Oregon and 2 non-BCS schools.  For those out there that say "You can only spend so much money", I ask you to read this article on the economy of Texas Athletics in its entirety and it should give you an idea of just how far FSU has to go to be able to consistently hang with the big boys. 

Again we will look at the teams who we compare to with regards to expenses both football and total athletics. 


It is difficult for me believe that we can consistently compete with elite teams when we are outspent by teams like Syracuse and Arizona State and barely outspending the likes of WVU and Michigan State.

It has been discussed many times before that there are many issues holding FSU back from making big time money.  One of the primary reasons is in the demographics of Florida State’s student population; we didn’t have a law school until the last half century and have only developed a School of Medicine in the last decade.  The rich universities above have been churning out doctors, lawyers and engineers for generations and have generous boosters as noted in this article.

Another area that schools bring in hoards of cash in television revenue and right now the ACC fails in comparison to other BCS conferences.


Each SEC and Big 10 schools brings in almost 3 times as much money as an ACC team.  Each SEC and Big 10 team’s TV contract is roughly what our Booster population donates each year as well.  The ACC has a huge opportunity ahead of them with their current contract about to expire and it will be in the hands of ACC Commissioner to negotiate a new deal that can hopefully put us in the 10 million per team range.  For more details read here.

Now let’s look at the National Championship game over the past 5 years (when teams really started to learn how to leverage their assets, whether it be coaching, money or other intangibles) and see how they became successful and if FSU has the ability to duplicate.

2010 – Alabama vs. Texas

2009 – Florida vs. Oklahoma

2008 – LSU vs. Ohio State

2007 – Florida vs. Ohio State

2006 – Texas vs. USC

USC – became a powerhouse despite lack of elite football money, primarily due to lack of West-Coast competition.  This would be unrealistic to expect FSU to do this since Gainesville is less than 200 miles away.

Texas, Florida, Alabama, LSU – Elite money, solid support system and excellent coaching.  While FSU now has the latter it is impossible to bring in the type of money they do and we still have tremendous strides to make in terms of a solid support system (i.e. Boosters, T.V. Contracts, endowments, etc.)

Oklahoma – Became elite while others were down, has since been passed by Texas and now has to contend with Nebraska's resurgence.  UF is not down and will not be any time soon. 

With the amazing coaching staff that FSU has assembled and SEC mentality I do not think FSU has to be at the top of this list.  This is going to be a process, especially in these economic times it is not feasible to think that we can increase our revenue to that extent in a matter of 1 or 2 years especially since it has been declining over the past few, which is why FSUn has preached that for us to get back to a national stage is 4-5 years away.  Also keep in mind is as we get closer to our goal the teams in front of us will more than likely increase their spending to keep ahead of the curve. 

It is not all gloom and doom.  Jimbo Fisher preaches process and you cannot simply go from winning your conference division once in the last 5 years to being a National Title contender overnight.  The first step is regaining control of the ACC, so let’s see how FSU fares with against its conference opponents.


FSU sits at the top in revenue thanks to the fact that they dominated they conference for so many years.  Duke and UNCE are historically basketball schools and I think that is where the focus is going to remain in the future.  UVA has very generous boosters who do whatever it takes to keep athletics thriving regardless of a team’s success.  BC and Miami are private schools that just do not have the capabilities of being big time revenue generating sports programs.  Something of note in recent years is that VT have lost revenue, GT and Clemson has remained pretty stagnant while FSU, UNC, Miami have grown financially

Let’s now take a look at how FSU stacks up against other ACC schools with regards to football expenses and total expenses.


Miami and BC are at the top of the rankings primarily because they are private schools and tuition is factored into expenses.  With the new regime in place this is a number I expect to see rise regardless of our revenue increase, to get an idea of how the money will be spent and they types of benefits we can expect to reap from it read this

I think it is a pretty safe assumption that FSU has now assembled the best staff in the ACC and what they need now is the funds that will put them in prime position to contend for an ACC title year in and year out.  I am optimistic about our conference chances in the next 2 years and do think that with our coaching advantages and increasing funds we can once again reign over the ACC.  Why?  Look and see what we have done since Jimbo Fisher has taken over.   

The excitement building behind the Seminoles’ 2010 season doesn’t stop with the arrival of another celebrated class of players. Early returns on the behind-the-scenes efforts of Seminole Boosters and the Florida State ticket office indicate that Seminole fans have a renewed enthusiasm for the program’s future.

Based on year-to-date comparisons, renewal of booster membership is up 90 percent from this point in 2009, while they are enjoying nearly a 17 percent increase in monetary gifts. Season ticket renewals and new season ticket purchases for 2010 are even more impressive statistically. The ticket office is reporting an 80 percent increase in new sales over the total from this time last year, while renewals, bolstered by an early push, are up from 423 to a whopping 2,327. That’s a 450 percent increase.

I hope the above information has given you a good idea of the current state of FSU football in comparison to the Elite National Title contenders.  It is imperative moving forward that we maximize the most out of our money and spend wisely as we don’t have the luxury of masking mistakes with ridiculous amounts of cash.  We will never have the financial support of schools like Texas, UF, Ohio State and Alabama, our demographics are not conducive to the kind of support they receive.  The ideal situation is to study and learn the different paths each elite team took to get there and hopefully see FSU repeat similar practices to the best of their ability.