Published on September 1, 2016 by Luonan Li  

The table doesn't lie, does it? Perhaps not, but it doesn't always tell the full story, such as exactly how much each college has spent to yield such results. Over the recent past, many colleges have spent massive amounts of money on college football with the hope to gain an edge in football over other colleges.

Spending is one thing, but smart and effective spending can be an uphill task. Spending involves a number of faces. It entails reallocation of coach's salaries, renovation of sports facility, and many more. To get the maximum out of each buck calls for countless factors. It means coming up with a budget diverse enough to cut across every part of the sport. Teams should always strive to spend smarter than their competition.

A surprising findings by lead researchers show a small correlation between spending and results. While many teams focus on upgrading infrastructure to attract quality players, they overlook other departments such as player development. The net effect is imbalance in the entire system. Needless to say, dedicating more payroll to one position rather than balancing brings more harm than good.

In as much as budget is indicative of performance, the management should strike balance between new structures and existing ones. Most colleges focus to improve facilities and in the process overlook other areas like the player’s well being. They believe better facilities will attract quality players which translates to better results. However, players are attracted by a number of factors and their education or well being is key. Along the same lines, spending should be aimed to strengthen rather than replace. In simpler terms, the management should think long-term rather than expecting an overnight transformation.

Opposite to common knowledge, money does not necessary buy success. This raises a thorny question as to why every college budgets do not reflect in the season performance. Most teams spend expecting instant results. Smart spending involves smooth change of the activities as adaptation to new structures may take time. Patience is therefore paramount during such instances.

The data below from the US department of education shows the relationship between spending and performance of various states. The table shows on-field rankings and their football-related expense rankings.

Relationship Between Spending and Performance in Football
State Success Spending Difference
Alabama 11.6 5.9 -5.7
Boise State 20.6 83.3 62.7
Eastern Michigan 114.2 104.9 -9.3
Mississippi 42.1 64.1 22
Oregon 11.3 33.1 21.8
Maryland 65.7 65.3 -0.4
New York City 61.9 61.7 -0.2
Syracuse 77 30.9 -46.1
Tennessee 42 25.7 -16.3
Texas 26.5 8.1 -18.4

From the table, Boise state tops the list of most effective spenders. Big spenders include Eastern Michigan but does not translate to their success. Alabama is a big winner with a low difference between spending and performance. Syracuse has the most distance between spending and on field ranking.

Many attribute the problem of the weak correlation between football and the spending to the high frequency of unforeseen injuries which can destroy even the best team. On the other hand, critics point out lack of accountability as the root cause of poor performance.  One may argue that the college boards and management have a temporary cooling effect on inflation of renovation costs but some systems may be corrupt. Schools will report inflated costs in order to keep their reported profits lower, so they can cry poor when asking taxpayers and students for financial assistance.

Generally speaking, spending big isn’t any guarantee to winning. However, it’s much more difficult to sustain success with a smaller payroll. If the right parts and processes are put together a college can register impressive performance. With the college football season beginning tonight, the dust is beginning to settle after yet another big spending season by colleges. Whether the activities will yield the set goals is still a big puzzle.

Written by Luonan Li
General Editor: Macy Marin

Photo credits and citations

Benes, R. (2016). This chart shows which college football teams have the most success per dollar. Retrieved 26 July 2016, from

2012, M. (2016). How Much Money do the Big College Football Schools Get? Sportige. Retrieved 26 July 2016, from

Impact of Spending On FBS Team Performance. (2016). Retrieved 26 July 2016, from [Link broken as of 6/11/18]