You can, if you like, buy into the New York Times’ myth making and chalk it all up to Nick Saban being the college football epitome of Mr. Small Stuff, or you can take the prosaic approach and believe it’s more about the remarkable sums of money Alabama pours into its football program year after year after year.
From the 2014-5 fiscal year, here’s what each school in this year’s college football playoffs spent on football:
- Alabama: $48.3 million
- Clemson: $27.3 million
- Ohio State: $29.2 million
- Washington: $29.1 million
That’s a helluva spread, especially when you consider that Ohio State typically generates more athletic department revenue than ‘Bama does. Ultimately, this is why I have a hard time believing that the importation of the Process into Athens, Georgia is going to be seamless.
Sure, it’s not that UGA doesn’t have the money to compete. Georgia pulled in $116,151,279 for the same fiscal year, good for 15th nationally. And if you’re looking for a positive note from that, keep in mind that Jon Solomon has this for you:
Since 2005, no school has won football’s national championship while ranked outside the top 20 in total athletic revenue.
But when it comes to spending money on football, Georgia hasn’t been in the keeping up with the Joneses department, let alone the Sabans.
For starters, check out the football operating expenses, including the cost of scholarships per scholarship football player, for Alabama and Georgia, over the last four seasons data has been reported:
- 2011: Alabama — $363,722; Georgia — $275,701
- 2012: Alabama — $376,320; Georgia — $279,480
- 2013: Alabama — $465,127; Georgia — $318,965
- 2014: Alabama — $347,050; Georgia — $293,724
The gap has narrowed between the two programs, but that’s still the financial equivalent of Mark Richt’s roster management snafus.
From 2009-14, Georgia’s football spending per player increased 21%. That’s less than the SEC median (27%). It’s also less than the median for all FBS programs (31%).
Now, you can spend money wastefully, of course, and you don’t have to look very far afield for examples of that. But if you aren’t going to keep up on the spending front, you sure as hell better have the smarts to build a better mousetrap than the expensive one they’ve got in Tuscaloosa if you expect to show up in Atlanta for a conference title game. That hasn’t been the case for a while now.
Now the obvious caveat here is that we’re two seasons past the data available, and one of those is Smart’s first season in Athens. It’s reasonable to expect that we’ll see a narrowing of that financial spread when those spending numbers come into view. What remains to be seen is whether the dollars Butts-Mehre spends are enough to keep up with Saban on the field in the coming years. A couple of years from now, we should have enough information to assess both.