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The Money Game

Last week brought another series of examples of how college football has become a big business, and how totally out of control spending has become.

For decades Power Five schools have scheduled “cupcake” games against over-matched Group of Five and FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) opponents. In theory, both teams would win. The Power Five schools would pick up an easy “W”. The cash-strapped sacrificial lambs would pick up a big paycheck…often over $1 million.

Unfortunately, in addition to the huge pile of pesos, the opponents would often go home with a bunch of injuries that compromised the rest of their season. That’s why some of my friends in the business call these one-sided matchups “body bag” games.

Recently, cupcakes have fallen out of favor, as the College Football Playoff Committee has emphasized strength of schedule, and as fans have opted to stay home rather than buy tickets to a 56-0 blowout. Athletic Directors have noticed the empty seats, and they’re starting to adjust schedules accordingly.

Last week Georgia and Clemson announced a neutral site “made for TV” game to open the 2021 season. To make it happen, Georgia (or perhaps ESPN) had to fork over $1.8 million to San Jose State to cancel a previously scheduled game on the same date.

Almost simultaneously, USC decided it wanted to get out of a scheduled contest with UC Davis. Trojan fans were apparently miffed because, by playing Davis, USC would give up its lofty status as one of only three schools never to schedule an FCS opponent. (The other two schools, UCLA and Notre Dame, are two of the Trojans’ biggest rivals, which made it more incumbent upon Athletic Director Mike Bohn to make the move).

So USC paid Davis $725,000 to go away. And then, believe it or not, Bohn scheduled San Jose State –which had just become available due to the Georgia cancellation—to fill the open date.

Which means SJS picked up somewhere in the neighborhood of $3 million for one date.

And the Trojans got to keep their claim to scheduling purity while perhaps picking up an easier win against San Jose State than they would’ve had vs. Davis.

Recruiting Costs Skyrocket: We reported on college football recruiting costs several months ago and noted that Georgia spent over $2.6 million in 2018. Well, that was nothing compared to what the Bulldogs spent in ’19.

According to NCAA Financial Records, last year Georgia invested an astronomical $3.6M in recruiting, up a million from the previous year.


The rest of the top five spenders included other familiar names: Alabama ($2.6), Tennessee ($2.2), Clemson ($2.2) and Arkansas, which is clearly not getting bang for its buck ($1.9).

The biggest spenders in the Pac-12 were Oregon, which ranked 15th at $1.2M and Utah, 17th at $1.1. The rest of the conference’s schools were in the $700,000-$900,000 range, again evidencing the Pac-12’s lack of resources compared to SEC and Big Ten schools, and perhaps offering a partial explanation of why so many West Coast recruits are heading to the SEC or Clemson.

Please note that I’m not advocating these types of expenditures—far from it—but trying to demonstrate how expensive it has become to compete in today’s arms race.

Stanford Kudos: Speaking of recruiting, another report last week from 247 Sports and Hero Sports revealed the number of scholarship offers that college football teams across the country made to 2020 recruits, along with the number of players each school landed.

The results were pretty shocking.

Stanford was one of only four schools in the country that offered scholarships to few than 100 recruits. The Cardinal made 74 offers; the others were Northwestern (70), Rice (70) and Washington (79).

By comparison, Southern Miss made 98 offers to defensive linemen alone. In all, Southern Miss made 583 offers to get 23 commitments. That’s not a typo.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Stanford’s numbers was the yield. The Cardinal offered scholarships to 74 players, and 25 of them signed letters of intent. That 33.8% yield was the best in the country, by far.

Most of the schools in Power 5 Conferences had yields in single digits or right around 10%, including such powerhouses as Alabama at 9.9% (25 out of 252), national champion LSU at 7.6 (24 out of 316), Michigan at 6.8 (23 out of 338), Oklahoma at 11.7 (23 out of 196) and the aforementioned Georgia at 9.4 (25 out of 267).

One-time national powerhouse USC was among the lowest, with only 13 signees out of 176 offers (7.4%).

After Stanford, the best yields belonged to BYU (28.6%) and Washington (27.8).

Bottom line: Given the small pool of players that Stanford can recruit, due to its high admissions standards, Coach David Shaw and his staff are doing a pretty incredible job.

Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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