Deadspin.com posted a story this week titled “ESPN’s Wimbledon Bid Is The Future Of Televised Sports,” a review of the circumstances in which NBC, after having broadcast the world’s preeminent tennis tournament since the dawn of the open era, lost its rights to ESPN, a network which has over the past two decades picked up Major League Baseball, the NBA, most of NCAA college sports, and the entire sports remnants of the ABC television network. But what makes this story interesting is not that ESPN took it away inasmuch as NBC gave it up."
"NBC's not stupid, and GE didn't become the third-largest public company because it passes on chances to make the most money,” wrote author Barry Petchesky. “The decision comes down to opportunity cost. On one hand, there's the viewership lost by airing a match we already know the outcome of. On the other hand, there's the viewership lost by preempting The Today Show for live tennis. Guess which brings in more ad sales?”
"NBC, or any network that commits to a long-term TV deal, has to be concerned not only with recouping its money from commercial sales, but also the lost money from whatever's being preempted. For NBC, that's a fortnight of The Today Show, with around 5 million viewers daily; for ESPN, it's the 7am SportsCenter.”
Hold that thought as we begin with a review of the costs associated with intercollegiate football at Georgetown University.
First, this question: what is the opportunity cost for Georgetown to be a competitive football program? Or, more appropriately, how much investment will it take? For this column, a lot less opinion and a few more numbers will be in play. Few fans pay attention to a team's budget--perhaps it's assumed that schools send an equivalent amount on equivalent sports.
A closer look at U.S. Department of Education budgets for football suggests a changing landscape. Five seasons ago, the 2005-06 academic year, Georgetown ranked as follows among those Eastern schools playing Division I-AA football:
|1||James Madison University||$4,208,133|
|3||University of Delaware||$3,890,595|
|5||University of Richmond||$3,658,117|
|8||University of Massachusetts||$3,318,205|
|12||University of Rhode Island||$3,040,230|
|13||University of New Hampshire||$3,022,471|
|14||College of William and Mary||$3,006,528|
|15||College of the Holy Cross||$2,716,725|
|16||University of Maine||$2,621,578|
|25||University of Pennsylvania||$1,497,051|
|28||Stony Brook University||$1,225,656|
|30||Sacred Heart University||$994,970|
|31||Central Connecticut State Univ||$972,558|
|33||SUNY at Albany||$877,574|
|35||Saint Francis University||$867,629|
|36||Robert Morris University||$843,158|
Twenty-third? Not great, but look at the comparable budgets: Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn. Say what you will, but those are names Georgetown could be comfortable with. In 2009-10, look how that ranking had changed:
|1||University of Delaware||$5,744,858|
|4||University of Richmond||$4,783,891|
|5||College of William and Mary||$4,535,570|
|7||Old Dominion University||$4,415,209|
|8||University of Massachusetts||$4,332,838|
|10||James Madison University||$4,197,097|
|12||College of the Holy Cross||$3,920,294|
|13||University of New Hampshire||$3,824,532|
|14||University of Rhode Island||$3,730,269|
|16||University of Maine||$3,593,951|
|17||Stony Brook University||$3,452,189|
|24||University of Pennsylvania||$2,079,036|
|27||SUNY at Albany||$1,903,667|
|30||Central Connecticut State Univ||$1,779,801|
|31||Robert Morris University||$1,639,539|
|35||Saint Francis University||$1,415,266|
|36||Sacred Heart University||$1,384,786|
Goodbye, Princeton, Dartmouth, Penn. Say hello to Duquesne, St. Francis, and Sacred Heart.
So what changed? For Georgetown, very little. Its four year net change in football spending was a slight decrease from $1.6 to $1.4 million. Trouble was (and is), it was the only school in the region to actually decrease spending. When viewed on percentage change, Georgetown's place in the Eastern landscape is even more disturbing:
|2||Stony Brook University||182%|
|4||SUNY at Albany||117%|
|7||Robert Morris University||94%|
|8||Central Connecticut State Univ||83%|
|10||Saint Francis University||63%|
|13||College of William and Mary||51%|
|14||University of Delaware||48%|
|15||College of the Holy Cross||44%|
|18||Sacred Heart University||39%|
|19||University of Pennsylvania||39%|
|21||University of Maine||37%|
|23||University of Richmond||31%|
|24||University of New Hampshire||27%|
|27||University of Rhode Island||23%|
|34||James Madison University||0%|
|(new programs since 2006 not included)|
It’s no secret that Georgetown spends a lot less on football, than, say, men’s basketball. There is historical as well as economic precedent for this. The dropping of major college football remains a tear in the Georgetown athletic fabric sixty years later, because it cemented an institutional distrust in sports becoming bigger than the school could manage. Football wasn’t dropped for scandal, nor for any shame brought upon the school, but for the sin that it was an expensive proposition for the University. That football returned at all was based upon the premise—a compact, perhaps-- that football at Georgetown, expensive football, would not return as it did before.
“Any form of highly subsidized football is an economic impossibility here at Georgetown,” wrote The HOYA in 1964. “There is big-time football and non-scholarship football. There is no in between.”
For most of Georgetown’s 28 other sports, then as now, its programs are underfunded. It’s not a slight, but it’s reflective of a school which decided long ago not to invest in the land and the tools that major college programs do to be in that select company. Few expected Georgetown ever to be in the select company of major college athletics again, but it happened.
What happened was, of course, men’s basketball, which also existed on a shoestring when John Thompson arrived in 1972. The perfect storm of Thompson, the arrival of the Big East Conference, and the explosion of TV sports elevated Georgetown from a local team to a national one within three years, even if McDonough Gym was better suited to a Division II program than one that was moving through the NCAA Tournament.
It was during the early 1980’s (and revisited in 2004) that Georgetown took a hard look at the opportunity costs of men’s basketball and decided that the costs of investing in basketball had a return that Georgetown could live with, and be successful with. Georgetown’s basketball spending went from “spending to compete” to “spending to excel”.
Georgetown football does not spend to excel. It has not demonstrated the capacity or the financial commitment to compete for the I-AA national championship.
It is arguable that Georgetown football does not spend to be regularly competitive. With a budget that trails fellow Patriot league schools by such a degree that the Hoyas could double its spending and still rank last in the conference by budget, one unfamiliar with GU could assume that Georgetown’s financial backing does not put it in a position to compete for the Patriot League title; not spending to compete, merely spending to play.
"How will ...football better the school?” asked The HOYA 47 years ago. “Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s advantageous.”
The secret to Georgetown’s future success isn’t to look to Delaware or Villanova for budgetary guidance. First, look up the hill.
As operating budgets go, Georgetown University is half that of Duke, a quarter that of Stanford. Yale produces enough endowment proceeds to fund the entire Georgetown operating budget, yet Georgetown’s annual endowment proceeds would fund two weeks of expenses at Yale. Yet, against considerable odds, Georgetown nonetheless competes with Duke, Yale, and other peers—not because it outspends these schools, but because, in part, it leverages its message and its spending that play to Georgetown’s strengths.
And what are these strengths? From Georgetown.edu: "Established in 1789, Georgetown is the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university. Drawing upon this legacy, we provide students with a world-class learning experience focused on educating the whole person through exposure to different faiths, cultures and beliefs. With our Jesuit values and location in Washington, D.C., Georgetown offers students a distinct opportunity to learn, experience and understand more about the world."
Put another way:
1. The preeminent Roman Catholic university in the nation.
2. Exposure to a world-class education.
3. Location, location, location.
Over the next four installments, let’s talk about the targeted investment that could allow Georgetown to compete at the top of its football peer set, focusing to its strengths and opening the doors of a Georgetown education to a new generation of student-athlete that may have never considered it in the first place.
(That, and finishing the field.)