The college football season might’ve ended in January, but the competition never ends. Just because there’s no more football games, it doesn’t mean the fights stop – not on the recruiting trail, not in the boardrooms, and certainly not on Twitter.
This offseason has been as news-filled and entertaining as any in recent memory, in part thanks to the lightning rod of a coach at the University of Michigan. Jim Harbaugh just can’t help himself when it comes to making headlines as he embraces each day with an “enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
We also have plenty of balance sheets and tax returns to dissect. So without further ado, here are the winners and losers of the 2016 offseason:
Big Ten: Jim Delany did it again. The Big Ten commissioner just completed the biggest media rights deal in college sports history by nearly tripling the conference’s television revenue. The Big Ten reached agreements with FOX, ESPN and CBS for a total of $2.6 million over six years, at over $400 million per season. And that’s not counting the additional $8-$10 million the Big Ten Network brings in for each school every year.
Jim Harbaugh: The Michigan coach has taken on all his enemies (real or imagined) and won every battle this offseason. He drew the ire of the SEC by bringing his team to Florida for a week of spring ball and out-maneuvered both the SEC and ACC by getting the NCAA to stand down on a proposed satellite camp ban. And on top of all that, he’s reeled in a top-five ranked recruiting class with his Wolverines now poised to make a playoff run.
UCLA: Perhaps the surprise of the offseason is that L.A.’s “other school” landing the largest apparel deal in the history of collegiate athletics. UCLA signed with Under Armour for $280 million over 15 years, outstripping the bigger brand names that also recently signed new apparel contracts:
- Ohio State (Nike) – $252 million for 15 years
- Texas (Nike) – $250 million for 15 years
- Michigan (Nike) – $174 million for 11 years
- Notre Dame (Under Armour) – $90 million for 10 years
Larry Scott: Even though the Pac-12 is getting lapped in revenue by other Power 5 conferences (more on that later), its commissioner is laughing all the way to the bank. According to the tax returns for the 2014-15 fiscal year, Scott raked in more money than any of his counterparts:
- Pac-12 (Larry Scott) – $4.05 million
- SEC (Mike Slive) – $3.6 million
- ACC (John Swofford) – $2.7 million
- Big Ten (Jim Delany) – $2.6 million
- Big 12 (Bob Bowlsby) – $2.6 million
Pac-12: While Scott laughed all the way to the bank, his conference is lagging behind other conferences in revenue, partly thanks to the failed Pac-12 Network that still struggles to gain an audience four years into its existence. Once the Big Ten’s new media rights deal kicks in, expect the gap between the conferences to grow to more than $10 million per year per school. The distribution each conference school received in the 2014-15 fiscal year:
- SEC – $32.7 million
- Big Ten – $32.4 million
- ACC – $25.8 million
- Pac-12 – $25.1 million
- Big 12 – $23.3 million*
* does not include third-tier rights, such as $15 million Texas received from Longhorn Network
Greg Sankey: The SEC commissioner’s predecessor Mike Slive built a juggernaut by playing nice and working behind the scenes. Sankey, however, has been front-and-center in several public spats, chiefly with Harbaugh over Michigan’s spring trip and satellite camps. But so far he’s lost both of these PR battles and as a result there has been unprecedented acrimony heaped on the SEC by other conferences tired of playing second fiddle to its interests.
The Have-nots: Whereas the Power 5 conferences are hauling in record amounts of cash, the Group 5 schools continue to struggle to stay afloat. For financial reasons, the Sun Belt is booting Idaho and New Mexico State out of its conference, with the former making the decision to drop down to FCS play. Conference USA, ravaged by numerous realignment raids in recent years, signed a new TV deal that will pay its member schools less than half of the $1 million per year they were getting under the old contract, with some of their games to be carried by BeIN Sports.
The Nouveau riches: Scandals erupted at both Baylor and Ole Miss, two schools that seemingly came out of nowhere to become powerhouses in the college football landscape. Now we know both cut corners to get where they are. The Bears were forced to cut ties with coach Art Briles and the Rebels may yet be hit with a multi-year bowl ban by the NCAA. Both programs may face a long road to rejoining college football’s elite.