We accept the pecking order without thinking.
Dino Babers leaves Eastern Illinois for Bowling Green. Logical.
Steve Sarkisian heads back south to USC. Wouldn’t you?
Charlie Strong prefers to coach at Texas. The highest rung.
Bobby Petrino lands back at Louisville. Automatic.
Chris Petersen abandons Boise State for the Pac-12 (Washington).
Let’s see, Vanderbilt or Penn State? Hard choice, huh.
We know, don’t we?
This isn’t a discussion of broken contracts. That’s the nature of the business. Every ascending coach breaks his previous deal.
Today’s point is that everyone in sports recognizes the pecking order, and that includes the prospective athletes.
That’s why superior football players are attracted by the perennial winners, and struggling programs like Illinois are engaged in a seemingly endless quest to pull alongside. It’s just as normal for Ohio State to attract the most desired coach, Urban Meyer, as it is for Meyer to attract the best players.
In the Mike White-John Mackovic era, when fans filled Memorial Stadium and the “’80s belonged to the Illini,” the only schools in the Big Ten with clearly greater football value were Ohio State and Michigan.
Not only have Penn State and Nebraska changed the picture but the Illini also have fallen into the cellar in “intrinsic football value,” according to finance Professor Ryan Brewer of Indiana-Purdue. Brewer has worked as a risk management engineer and has testified as a valuation expert in the federal and Indiana court systems.
Based on a 242-page study that took more than two years, Brewer came up with a 50-school football list based on long-term performance, stadium size and attendance, revenue and expenses, cash flow adjustments, risk assessment, growth projections and state growth rates. His formula is similar to evaluating what each program is worth if put on the market like the NFL (Forbes says the Dallas Cowboys are worth $2.3 billion).
Unsurprisingly, Texas is No. 1 with a value of $875 million. Right behind are Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State. Five members of the SEC made the Top 10. Those make sense.
Here’s the surprise. Iowa is No. 11 at $479.1 million, followed by Nebraska, Wisconsin and Penn State.
But what was the criteria that boosted Kansas to No. 30 or left the Illini out when No. 40 Northwestern checked in at $154.5M, No. 46 Indiana at $125.8M, and No. 48 Purdue at $114.6M?
There is no doubt that Illinois has fallen off a cliff in perceived value. But to this extent? If Illinois football is gauged in value at barely over $100 million, that’s less than the $116 million cost of renovating Memorial Stadium in 2007-08.
We need to know more about how Brewer crunched the various numbers. But there’s little doubt that the UI has sunk toward the bottom nationally. In the marketplace, Illinois would be seen as lacking the attractiveness to hire any head football coach from the five power conferences.
And you blamed Mackovic for choosing Texas?
Enrollment hurdles, compared with many other universities, remain an Illini football stumbling block. That is a recruiting fact, particularly regarding junior college transfers.
By pointing that out, it doesn’t mean this column favors a drop in UI academic standards. If the university wants to hold fast on entrance standards, so be it.
My point — made clear by coaches in the business — is that the Illini are operating at a disadvantage. If the UI administration has an interest in competing on an equal basis athletically with others in the Big Ten, Big 12 and elsewhere, changes would be required.
Again, this should not be construed as a recommendation. It’s up to them, not me, and that’s the distinction. The Illini are handicapped as things stand now.
It must be obvious that, if others can accept athletes that Illinois can’t, the result carries over to the playing field.
That said, Illinois never will be able to compete equally with, for example, Ohio State football. The Buckeyes place greater emphasis on the game and have more resources, population, tradition and quality athletes in the home state. Ohio State is such a draw that the Buckeye coaches can be choosy about whom they take. But if it comes to push and shove for a marginal Ohio student, they can push buttons that Illinois can’t.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.