Alabama Football: As CFB changes the biggest dogs are gonna eat


When college football reinvents itself, Alabama Football will be in a strong position.

There are reasons to be concerned about Alabama Football. The safety of players, coaches and staff is paramount. Other big concerns are whether anything resembling a full season can occur and if it does, how long must attendance restrictions remain in place.

Those concerns are immediate, or at the longest, will be over the next several months. Another possible byproduct of these unprecedented circumstances is a fundamental change in the structure of college football. It has grown increasingly obvious, college football will change. However that reinvention of college football evolves, the Alabama football program will enjoy some of the greatest benefits.

A more detailed explanation as to why is provided, below but a simpler description applies – ‘big dogs eat.’ Alabama football is a very big dog. The phrase has been used in baseball for decades. It was applied to golf in the late 1990s movie, Tin Cup. In golf parlance, it became ‘let the big dog eat,’ referring to attacking a golf hole with a driver on the tee. The root of the phrase comes from when food is put out for a group of dogs, the big dogs will get their fill before the smaller dogs.

The next structural version of college football will allow the ‘big dogs to eat.’ Fair or not, the programs with the deepest financial resources will prevail. The most popular notion is the Power Five programs will break away and gain autonomy from the NCAA.

While that breakaway is likely to take place, the new model may not work for some Power Five programs. The reason being, for all the massive explosion of money into college football, many programs lose money. Will the scraps left by the big dogs allow the less big dogs to subsist?

Take the Big 12 conference. The Iowa State Cyclones and Kansas State Wildcats have the lowest athletic department expenditures in the conference at less than $90M annually. Texas, by comparison, spends over $200M per year. A similar comparison could be made between Vanderbilt and Alabama.

After COVID subsides and Super Conferences emerge, are Iowa State, Kansas State, Vanderbilt and others better served by a different structure? The financial details created by a new structure will provide the answer.

Though not a Power Five member, Cincinnati is an example of how tough athletic finances can be. According to The Enquirer from 2014-2017, the University of Cincinnati Athletic Department “had a deficit of almost $102M.” The most recent (2019) deficit was reported as $29.7 million. The deficits were filled by the school’s General Fund and “non-voluntary student fees.” One estimate is over four years a Cincinnati student would pay $5,000 in fees going to the Atheltic Department. Some academics and administrators at the school are opposed to continued athletics subsidies.

One reason for the rising costs in college athletics are salaries for football and men’s basketball coaches and their staffs. The University of Alabama gets a great return on every penny put into the Alabama football program. Justifying Alabama football coaching salaries is easy. College football at the elite program level is big business. Competitive success brings in greater dollars and the market for coaches sets their value.

But what about schools that are not elite athletically? Was Tommy Tuberville worth the over $10M he earned in four seasons at Cincinnati? Given the deficits cited above, where was the return? Credit can go to Tuberville and his agent for maximizing the coach’s value. Both have been good at it. Buyouts are another example of the debatable largess of some college football programs. During the 2009 season, Auburn fired Tommy Tuberville from a job he no longer wanted. They paid him $6M for the privilege.

An upper-tier of college football programs try to match the achievements of Alabama football. Clemson would claim they already have. For other programs, the chase for a Championship warrants any cost. Not all 65 of the Power Five programs can withstand the ‘whatever it costs’ philosophy. A common suggestion is the next era of college football will be four, 16-team conferences. Financial realities may dictate 64 or 65 are too many.  No one knows how many schools can annually pay the price to chase championship prizes. Perhaps it is only 48 teams in four conferences? What we do know is whenever and however many, Alabama football AND the University of Alabama will prosper. Nick Saban is the primary reason why.

dark. Next. Predicting the records of every SEC team

Alabama football is a showcase for the University. One that has generated significant enrollment growth. Before Nick Saban arrived enrollment was about 24,000. Last year it was over 38,000.