It should come as no surprise to anybody with even casual knowledge of the sport that college football is huge business heading into 2016. ABC/ESPN have gone all-in on a new experiment that the Worldwide Leader in Sports will make college football even bigger and also an integral part of New Year’s Eve celebrations around the United States. The new method of crowning a college football champion, the four-team playoff that could one day be expanded, has not eliminated the variety of bowl games that are featured on television during the holiday season. Bowl Week, as ESPN has named it, continues on, and there is not much reason to believe that trend will end anytime soon.
It was in late December 2015 when Chris Smith of Forbes released a list of the most valuable college football programs for the end of the year. While diehard football fans would understandably struggle to rank the teams from No. 20 to No. 1 on their own, they could probably name at least half of the programs on the list without struggling all that much. That is not to suggest, though, that the Forbes list did not include a couple of surprises. Would you have thought, without looking at the data, that Tennessee would be in the top-three? As has been seen in the past, success sometimes only means so much to alumni who love to support their favorite college football team.
20. USC: $66 Million Team Value
It almost seems as if it was a different era when USC was seen as a team capable of winning a college football national championship on a yearly basis. Clay Helton is the man who has been tasked with returning USC back to the program’s glory days. Helton served as interim head coach for USC multiple times, most recently during the 2015 season. The school decided to remove the interim label before the end of 2015, and thus Helton has been given the keys to the kingdom for at least the start of 2016. Will USC regret not waiting for a bigger name, perhaps Chip Kelly, to become available? Helton will be looking to prove some doubters wrong.
19. Michigan State: $67 Million
It must, in some ways, feel like it is somewhat of a thankless task to be in charge of Michigan State football these days. Defeating Ohio State and earning a berth in the 2016 edition of the playoff is not enough to convince some critics that the Spartans are, in fact, a better overall side than the Buckeyes. Michigan State is often left in the shadows of headlines thanks to Michigan, the big brother of the state’s college football universe. There is one thing that Michigan State could do that would force every college football observer to take serious notice of the program: Win the national championship in January 2016.
18. South Carolina Gamecocks: $69 Million
The South Carolina football program was thrust into headlines in the fall of 2015 when Steve Spurrier, an icon of the sport and of the business of college football, announced out of nowhere that he was walking away from the job of “head ball coach” immediately. It is believed that Spurrier has worked his last ever game as a coach for a significant football program. Those who would hit out at Spurrier’s decision and at other aspects of his career would be kidding themselves if they did not point out that replacing Spurrier long-term could be difficult for South Carolina, especially if Will Muschamp is persuaded to take on a National Football League position in the near future.
17. Florida State: $70 Million
It would not be a stretch to suggest that the future for Florida State beyond the end of the 2015-16 college football season is a bit murky. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has been linked with potential openings, most recently with the LSU job that did not become available to Fisher or to any other noteworthy candidate. That Fisher could be viewed by LSU or by any other institution as a candidate may say quite a lot about Florida State as a college football presence in the current state of the sport. Shouldn’t Florida State, after all, be considered to be one of the great gigs in all of college football?
16. Texas A&M: $71 Million
It is difficult, maybe even impossible, to attempt to say what the state of Texas A&M football would be had Johnny Manziel never played a down for the program. Manziel, as polarizing as he has been since entering the NFL and becoming a member of the Cleveland Browns, had one of the greatest seasons in the history of college football en route to winning a Heisman, and he helped put A&M on the map for some. A&M has yet to find a replacement or a Manziel 2.0 since Johnny Football left the program for the NFL, and that has led to speculation that head coach Kevin Sumlin could be looking for a new job in 2016. The Browns could use a head coach who is familiar with Manziel. Just saying.
15. Florida: $72 Million
There is an argument to be made that no college football program featured in this piece went on as emotional a roller coaster ride in 2015 as did the Florida Gators. Head coach Jim McElwain helped Florida experience an immediate turnaround, one that included the team winning six straight games to begin the season. Any hopes that McElwain and Florida could have had for a season to remember were dashed when quarterback Will Grier was suspended for a season after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. While Florida still went on to have a successful season, one cannot help but wonder what could have been for the Gators.
14. Oregon: $75 Million
Oregon began 2015 with the program eyeing a potential national championship celebration. While that victory and any subsequent parade were all left to the imagination after a loss to Ohio State, that blow did not take away from what the Ducks achieved during the 2014-15 campaign. Oregon may not be competing for a title at the start of 2016, but the Ducks continue to play a brand of offensive-minded football that makes the team intriguing for would-be players who are hoping to have some fun and also get noticed during their college careers. Playing for Oregon did wonders for current NFL quarterback Marcus Mariota.
13. Washington: $78 Million
Are the Washington Huskies on the cusp of something special that could see the program be mentioned alongside of schools such Ohio State and Oregon? Larry Stone of The Seattle Times believes that may very well be the case. Stone, in particular, sees bright futures for Washington quarterback Jake Browning and for running back Myles Gaskin. Washington head coach Chris Petersen has been widely praised for the job that he did during the 2015-16 season, and the school rewarded Petersen with an extension that could keep him with the program through 2020; unless, of course, Petersen lands a different offer at some point down the road.
12. Arkansas: $80 Million
It would be understood if Arkansas did not immediately come to mind when you were thinking about the most valuable college football teams for 2015. Arkansas, after all, is not on the verge of hanging with the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Michigan State and other programs that are atop the overall college football standings. While Bret Bielema is a respected head coach, Bielema has been a disappointment in that he has not taken the program past a point of stability. Arkansas continues to be among the most valuable brands in college football, but those spending the money are going to expect bigger and better things from the program sooner than later.
11. Penn State: $81 Million
The days of Penn State football being in purgatory following the Jerry Sandusky scandal may be in the past, but the Nittany Lions remain far away from when the program was seen as one of the best in all the land. James Franklin has yet to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can be the head coach that Penn State needs to take the school back to the top of the Big Ten. It could, in fact, be said that Franklin and his staff have done more harm than good to promising quarterback Christian Hackenberg. It will be a damning mark on Franklin’s resume if Hackenberg goes on to be a star in the NFL.
10. Auburn: $89 Million
According to the figures that have been provided by Forbes, Auburn football had a profit of $47 million over the past year. As impressive as that may be on paper, that number loses some of its luster once you learn that the program made $87 million in revenue. Sports franchises/brands/programs have to spend money to make money and find success, or so we have been told, but Auburn’s recent successes have not, on paper, matched all that Alabama has achieved as of late. There will, in theory, be better days for Auburn ahead, but having a .500 record in late December should be unacceptable for those running this proud program.
9. Oklahoma: $96 Million
One should not need to read long essays about why 2015 was a monumental year for Oklahoma football. While teams such as Alabama, Ohio State, Florida and others were frequently mentioned in headlines in the first half of the college football season, Oklahoma quietly ascended up the meaningful rankings en route to earning a shot at winning the national championship. You may have seen, in December, that Oklahoma was being picked as a favorite to win it all. With head coach Bob Stoops leading the Sooners into the opening stages of the playoff, it is easy to see why so many believe Oklahoma’s time is now.
8. Alabama: $99 Million
Tradition. History. Championships. Money. Tremendous head coach. Brand value. Alabama has it all. The Crimson Tide are also being picked by some to be the favorites to win the college football playoff in January 2016. One cannot help but laugh, these days, whenever he sees a rumor or a report that Alabama head coach Nick Saban may be considering going to the NFL or to another college football program. Saban is not just a genius as a college football czar. He is also a wise businessman who knows what to do to get nearly whatever he wants. Don’t expect to see Saban coaching anywhere else in the near future.
7. Ohio State: $100 Million
No, hopeful football fans who root for a professional franchise that calls northeast Ohio home, Urban Meyer is not going to attempt to save the pitiful Cleveland Browns. A reason for that is because Meyer would be downright silly to even think about taking the Cleveland gig when he has all that he could ask for and more at Ohio State. The current Ohio State head coach consistently has a team that can, at worst, compete for conference championships. Meyer took the Buckeyes to the promised land at the start of 2015. The truth of the matter is that there are not many NFL jobs that are better than what Meyer has at Ohio State.
6. Georgia: $102 Million
College football is similar to the NFL in that both are “what have you done for me lately?” businesses. Mark Richt had spent 15 seasons as Georgia head coach, and the Bulldogs were a win away from what could have been Richt’s tenth double-digit win season when the university and the coach surprisingly parted ways. Richt did not have to wait long to land a new job, as he became the head coach at Miami. Kirby Smart will serve as Richt’s immediate replacement at the start of 2016. Smart could do a lot worse than mirroring what Richt achieved while at Georgia.
5. Michigan: $105 Million
Michigan is one of the several programs that should be among the most valuable college football teams regardless of record. The strength of the Michigan brand was only bolstered by the fact that head coach Jim Harbaugh has the Wolverines back among the elite of the Big Ten just one year into his tenure at the university. Michigan may not yet be able to overtake Michigan State or Ohio State, but Harbaugh and his staff made quite the splash in 2015. Harbaugh has already been a great get for a program in need of such a boost, and fans and alumni have reasons to believe the best is yet to come.
4. LSU: $111 Million
The sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Death. Taxes. Les Miles being linked with either a different college football job or an outright dismissal from LSU. You can set your watch to each of these. It was reported in November 2015 that Miles and LSU will remain an item for at least one more college football season to the delight of some fans, boosters and alumni. Do not, however, be fooled into thinking that you have seen the last of this saga. It could be Penn State, USC, UCLA, Notre Dame or some other program. Miles will probably have his name linked with some big university at some point in 2016.
3. Tennessee: $121 Million
College football powerhouses that come to mind: Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama may be among the first that you think of when you ponder the matter for only a few seconds. Tennessee may not rate among the best college football programs as it pertains to record and wins, but the team’s valuation is undeniably impressive. Tennessee, according to the information provided by Forbes, made $94 million in revenue last year. $70 million of that was profit. That kind of profit is nice on paper, but it will only mean so much for alumni if it does not equal victories.
2. Notre Dame: $127 Million
When it comes to college football, there is no bigger name than Notre Dame. Notre Dame will likely never be in a place where the program has to consider joining up with a conference unless the school no longer wants to be independent for whatever reason(s). The Fighting Irish will be considered to be contenders for a national championship whenever the school posts a remarkable record regardless of Notre Dame’s schedule. Notre Dame is, in a sense, college football’s version of “America’s Team,” and it is difficult to imagine that a time will come in the foreseeable future when that will change.
1. Texas: $152 Million
Everything is bigger in Texas, or at least that is what we are told, and that old adage is true regarding the valuations for college football programs in 2015. According to the information that was presented by Forbes, Texas has a team value of $152 million. In the past year, Texas made $121 million in revenue, and the program turned a profit of $92 million. For all of that money that has been generated, Texas has still not been able to land an offensive guru who has kept the program as the best college football team in at least all of the state. It turns out that money does not always equal happiness in the world of college football.