By Chris Arledge
We have something of a shortened Weekly Musings from Arledge this week because of the Christmas holiday. Merry Christmas.
Does USC have the money to compete in college football? We know that USC does not bring in the same revenues as the other traditional powers. But does USC football bring in enough revenues to field a championship-level team?
Forbes created a list of the most valuable college football teams in the country in September of this year, averaging the revenue and profit estimates for the prior three seasons.
As you might expect, USC was nowhere near the top of the list, coming in 18th. So this explains everything, right? USC can’t afford to compete?
I’m not sure about that. USC brought in average football revenues of $87 million. That means USC was $1 million behind Florida State – a team that was competing for championships recently under Jimbo Fisher – and only $2 million behind Georgia, which is obviously more than capable of competing at the highest levels under Kirby Smart (though, admittedly, not capable of playing a fourth quarter against Alabama – maybe that’s when the money runs out?). Notably, the team at the top of the list, Texas A&M, has been mediocre or worse for a long time. The second-best program in the country, Clemson, doesn’t make the list. Clemson football was less profitable than Texas Tech between 2014 and 2016. And even as late as the 2016-17 school year, Clemson was only 26th in athletic department revenues.
So while there is a correlation between football success and football revenues, it’s not clear to me that football revenues are the key to gridiron championships.
It’s also worth noting that revenues are not all that closely related to expenditures. If the problem at USC is the lack of money to compete with the other traditional powers, then we would expect to see that USC spends far less on football than the other programs. But that’s not entirely true. According to the Forbes list, USC spent $40 million on football and kept $47 million as profits. Texas A&M spent $41 million. Oklahoma spent $46 million. So did Texas. Notre Dame spent $40 million. Florida spent $44 million. Oregon spent $38M. Penn State spent $44M. Georgia spent $34M. USC’s numbers aren’t dramatically out-of-step with its competitors.
If USC is struggling in football, the primary cause is probably not football expenditures.
But if USC does need to spend more on football to compete, it can do so. The real question is how much money USC wants to take from football and give to other sports and other things. USC football made an average of $47 million in profits between 2014 and 2016. If USC needed to spend an additional $5 million on the football program to become more competitive, it could certainly do so. Instead of having $47 million in profits, it would have $42 million. Is that not enough? Washington’s football program brought in an average of $84 million and spent $48M of it, leaving only $36 million to spread around to its other sports programs. Has Washington devastated its athletic department in the process?
In other words, if USC is unable to compete because it will not spend the same money on football that Oklahoma and Texas do, it is because USC has made a choice to allocate that money elsewhere. The money exists. It was raised by the football program. It is up to USC whether to spend the money it needs to compete.
While waiting to see what kind of offense USC will roll out under Kliff Kingsbury (photo above), one thing to keep an eye on is how the running backs are used in the passing game. Kingsbury’s offenses at TT tended to complete about 50-60 passes per year to the running backs. USC over the last three years is usually in the low 30’s. That’s a difference of about two completions to the running backs per game.
The hope is that Kingsbury will do a much better job of getting USC’s talented skill position players in space and in favorable match ups. Getting the ball to the running backs in the passing game would be a good place to start.
I hope you can make a little time for some podcasts we have coming up.
The first is with Notre Dame legend Luther Bradley. We talk a little about the USC-ND rivalry, Lynn Swann, Rudy, and some other things. Luther is Irish, but he’s also a really good guy who has some great stories to tell.
Also, sometime in the next couple of weeks, we’ll have a podcast with former USC tailback Rod McNeill. Rod is a great Trojan and well worth a listen. Most people who play football at USC were good high school players. But Rod was special. He went through high school defenses like Godzilla going through Tokyo and set the CIF single-game rushing record in the process. He was the top recruit in the nation when he was coming out of high school, a huge running back with the speed of a track star, and he was expected to be the next OJ. And Rod had a very good career at USC; he was the second-leading rusher on what may be the greatest college football team of all-time. But with Rod, the question was always what might have been. If not for a serious hip injury, it may have been Rod McNeill rather than Anthony Davis who dominated the Irish in the early 70’s, and the future of USC football may have been very different. I’m going to talk to Rod about that, and we’re going to talk about his very interesting recruiting stories. (Spoiler alert: Bill Cosby makes a cameo.) We’re also going to discuss Rod’s brother Fred, a star linebacker at UCLA who played with the Minnesota Vikings for over a decade. Fred recently passed away, largely if not completely because of brain trauma he suffered from his football career. We’ll talk about that and what our better understanding of football brain injuries might mean for the future of football.
Finally, we’ll have a podcast all about speed, featuring Tyson Gay and Monzavous Rae Edwards, two guys who know quite a bit about speed. Tyson, of course, is the fastest American sprinter in history and the second-fastest man in world history. Monzavous is also a world-class sprinter who has run sub-10 in the 100 meters, made the US national team, and is now a budding speed guru. We’re going to talk about what makes an athlete fast, what football players and coaches don’t know that they should know, whether there’s a difference between track speed and football speed, and we’ll talk a little bit about the mental side of sports: how does a world-class athlete prepare mentally to perform his or her best? I hope you’ll make time for it.
USC Game of the Past
October 12, 2002
Cal Bears at USC
This is an underrated game for Pete Carroll’s career at USC. It was about midway through his second season, and it was not at all clear that things had changed at USC. After bludgeoning Colorado in Boulder, USC lost a tough game at K State and another tough game at Washington State. USC was sitting at 3-2 coming into the Cal game, and they found themselves down 21-3 late in the second quarter. A loss there and another disappointing, .500 season seems to be in the cards.
The turning point was a TD pass to Kareem Kelly that, I suspect, may not have counted had instant replay been in effect at the time. This was the start of 27 straight points for the Trojans and, really, the start of USC’s dominant run that culminated in two national titles, two Heismans, and extreme NCAA jealousy.