Want Elite Program Status? Get Your Checkbook…

Posted: June 24, 2011 in NCAA, sports
Tags: , , ,

What is an elite college football program? The term is tossed around in many debates, but seldom does anyone actually define what it means. Is it simply about winning a lot of games over an extended period of time? Is it about winning championships on a regular basis? Can your program be elite if it hasn’t won a national championship in your lifetime? Is it about the size of your stadium? Is it about how recognizable a school’s name is? If your school has a legendary coach does that make the program elite? Is it the amount of money a school is willing to invest in football?

To some degree it is all of the above.

As often is the case, I think elite status starts with money. Schools can have great runs, but if they don’t spend big bucks — $10-15 million or more a year – they have almost no chance to be elite. Boise State is a perfect example of this. The Broncos are on a great run, but they aren’t elite. By my count there are 25 schools that basically hand their football programs blank checks.

The list:

SEC – Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn and LSU.

ACC – Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.

Big Ten – Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin.

Pac 12 – Southern Cal, Washington, Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon*

Big 12 – Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State**

Independent – Notre Dame.

Oregon* belongs because of the mega-generosity of NIKE founder Phil Knight. Oklahoma State** belongs because of the mega-generosity of billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens.

For the record, of the 25 schools all are large state universities except for Southern Cal and Notre Dame.

A school that doesn’t spend big bucks but has been among the elite is Miami. The fact that Miami has barely been above average in recent years has erased it from the elite list, but the Hurricanes have a unique program, a small private school with an incredible recruiting base and one of the largest TV followings in the sport, and could be elite again.

Like I said, writing big checks is all but a must…but it doesn’t insure you remain on the elite list.

Only three SEC schools can be considered elite right now: Alabama, LSU and Florida. Yeah, I know Auburn just won the national title, but the War Eagles truly caught lightning in a bottle with Cam Newton. And, of course, there’s a good chance Auburn’s national title will be voided when the “Cam Scam” investigation is completed. The War Eagles have been too up and down to be elite. As for the Gators, they slipped last year to 8-5 but there were some unusual circumstances, most dealing with departed coach Urban Meyer. Besides, when 8-5 is a down year, you’re elite. The Gators will be back on or near the top of the SEC soon. Georgia, too, may regain elite status, but the Bulldogs need to turn things around this season. A third straight mediocre season could actually costs Coach Mark Richt his job.

Virginia Tech is the ACC’s only current elite program. The Hokies have consistently won 10 or more games and a bunch of league titles. FSU is no longer an elite program but it appears to be on the verge of returning. The Seminoles’ unprecedented run from 1987 to 2001 produced two national titles and a slew of ACC championships. They didn’t exactly bottom out, but when you lose 30-0 at home to Wake Forest you’re not elite. Few expected the problems that arose when Coach Bobby Bowden kept waffling on retirement. As a result, recruiting suffered and internal feuding almost wrecked the Noles. It won’t take long for FSU to get back among the elite. For the record, North Carolina has never been elite but it isn’t because the Tar heels haven’t tried.

In the Big Ten, Ohio State is certainly elite but Buckeyes’ days appear to be numbered because of the ongoing investigation of violations that prompted Coach Jim Tressell to resign, quarterback Terrell Pryor to leave school and a number of players to be suspended for the first five games next season. Wisconsin hasn’t won any titles lately, but Badgers have been consistent winners and remain elite. Michigan, once the most elite of the elite, has fallen on hard times, but the Wolverines appear to be headed in the right direction. Ohio State’s problems will, no doubt, help speed up Michigan’s return to elite status. League newcomer Nebraska is winning again but the Cornhuskers haven’t regained elite status. And admit it, Penn State isn’t what it used to be.

The Pac-12’s only elite programs right now are Oregon and Southern Cal. The Trojans won’t maintain that status much longer because of NCAA sanctions that voided their ’04 national title and cost them 30 scholarships. The downfall started last year. What’s happen at Washington is a mystery. The Huskies went from national power to winless practically overnight. Neither Arizona has ever been elite although both have tried.

Speaking of mysteries, it’s difficult to understand what happened at Texas last season. The Longhorns’ 5-7 record is one of the greatest collapses in college football history. But one down season doesn’t rob a school of elite status. Oklahoma is now king of the Big 12 and even brighter days are on the horizon. The Sooners will be the No. 1 team in most preseason polls. Oklahoma State, despite the generosity of Mr. Pickens, has yet to rate elite status and it’s been a long time since Texas A&M was a title contender in the Big 12.

As for Notre Dame, the Irish haven’t been relative in years, not since Coach Lou Holtz convinced the school to compromise its principles. Holtz won a national title on the field but the title was accompanied by several embarrassing scandals. Holtz was encouraged to leave and Notre Dame became mediocre.

By my count there are currently only 10 elite programs. Two of those, Southern Cal and Ohio State, will soon be off the list. FSU, Georgia, Nebraska and Michigan may well rejoin the elite group in the near future.

In conclusion, there are 120 schools listed as “major college” by the NCAA. By my count, only 25 have the wherewithal l to be elite and only 10 currently deserve that status. Talk about a sport of “haves” and have-nots”.

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