Fight the power.

I think it’s safe to say that Stewart Mandel’s recent incoherent ramblings about which schools are national powers and which aren’t have generated a pretty substantial reaction from the blogging world.

At one end of the analysis, you’ve got what I’d call the objective, look at what they’ve done on the field approach typified by what Michael Elkon and Kyle King have posted. At the other end, you’ve got Mandel’s… well, I’m not exactly sure how to characterize it, but we’ll call it the subjective, public perspective approach.

Over at Saurian Sagacity, Mergz has taken a look at the issue and come up with his own ranking system. His methodology differs from that of Elkon’s and King’s in that

Data I was looking for would include ideas such as winning records, school revenue from football, and recruiting. I was purposefully not going to include in my system any data that related to “national titles”, as the process is highly flawed and the very essence of bias (to say the least). I was also not going to include conference championships, because of the vast difference between conference talent and schedules (not to mention title games).

but he also differs from Mandel – at this point, who doesn’t – in that he tries to quantify his analysis against real world data, as opposed to those mythical fans from Montana:

1. 10 Year Winning Percentage – I choose 10 years as being currently relevant, but also a period long enough to reflect some real data points. I think a period of 10 years reflects pretty accurately success on a “national” basis, plus it gives reduced impact to teams no longer currently competitive (remember, Army was once a dominant team).

2. Average Home Game Attendance – I was looking here for a statistic that would reflect revenues generated by individual college programs through all means (donations, tickets and merchandise). However, no private colleges release this information, nor do several public schools (such as Penn State). For those that do release the information, I realized a high correlation between overall football revenues and average game attendance. For instance, the top 10 schools by average attendance, and their place in the REPORTED football revenue rankings, are –

1. Michigan (4th in revenue)
2. Penn St (does not report)
3. Tennessee (12th in revenue)
4. Ohio State (2nd in revenue)
5. Georgia (3rd in revenue)
6. LSU (8th in revenue)
7. Alabama (6th in revenue)
8. USC (does not report)
9. Florida (5th in revenue)
10. Texas (1st in revenue)

Obviously, the comparison is imperfect, but the only complete data set available is the average attendance.

3. Average recruiting class points for the last 4 years – Obviously, the ability to recruit well is as strong an indication as a “national power” as anything. Also obviously, it is a subjective exercise. However the bias isn’t mine. Plus, even though we use the rankings from in this system, they are pretty close to the other ranking services.

You can read the rest of his post to see how he gets to his list of top tier schools (based on data from the last 10 years), which are Florida, Southern Cal, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana State and Ohio State. That’s hardly a list that most fans from places other than Montana would quibble over.

I appreciate factoring attendance into the equation, as what he’s trying to get to is some means of bringing revenues from football into the calculations. I think that’s right. Let’s face it – as a general principle, schools with more money are going to sport better facilities which in turn enhances their ability to recruit, which in turn over time should mean better student athletes and better results on the field. (It also gives a school the means by which to blow $3 or $4 million per year on a high profile coach.)

I just wonder if there’s a better way to account for that.

There are a couple of holes in simply counting fannies in the seats as a measure of national powerhood. One is that it ignores a couple of other sources of income, revenues from television and merchandise. It’s easy to see why Tennessee generates more money than, say, Georgia Tech when you just look at attendance figures. It’s harder to see that when you compare Tennessee to Texas if you limit it to the same measure.

The other is that attendance is a fine way to see how much local fan support there is for a program, but it doesn’t really show you much about whether a school has a larger following nationally. Even after its rise to prominence in the 80′s, Miami has never drawn much to that rat-hole of a stadium, but it’s certainly enjoyed a national following outsized to its attendance numbers.

That’s why I think there ought to be a place in the calculations for national (non-pay) television appearances. National TV means more money, more national exposure and a greater likelihood of success on the field, as it’s come down pretty much to the BCS games being the free TV games in the postseason, a couple of exceptions like the Cotton Bowl notwithstanding.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone has other suggestions about what else could be factored into the equation. Please add your comments.

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Filed under College Football, Media Punditry/Foibles, Stats Geek!

3 responses to “Fight the power.

  1. Thanks for the article nod.

    It was very hard to find some way to quantify the college football revenues of programs because, as I said in the piece, many schools don’t release the actual figures. As we all know, Notre Dame makes a bunch of money from its TV contracts, but as a private school they don’t publish the details.

    The only data set I could find for all 115 NCAA schools I looked at that was even proximate to the revenue figures was the average attendance. For the schools that do report revenues, the top earners tend to be those with the biggest average attendance.

    Of course, any ideas for fine tuning are appreciated.

  2. peacedog

    Blutarsky, check that link to the Sagacity article – you inadvertantly linked it to B&B.

  3. D’oh! Link now fixed. Thanks, pd.