Tate: Football's not valued at Illinois, prof says

At the height of the Jim Tressel affair, Ohio State President Gordon Gee made a shabby attempt at humor:

“We’re trying to build a university that our football team can be proud of,” he said.

No one would ever consider enunciating that sort of jest as it pertains to the University of Illinois. It’s the opposite here. The UI is an academic blockbuster. Whatever negative football-related publicity the UI absorbs — which is considerable — doesn’t diminish the 20-plus Nobel laureates and 21 Pulitzer Prize winners, nor detract from the elite performances described by U.S. News & World Report:

— The UI Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences program is tied for first in the nation.

— The College of Engineering is No. 5 nationally with its graduate and undergraduate programs.

— Ph.D chemistry and computer science programs are Nos. 6 and 5, respectively.

The list goes on and on. USN&WR ranks Illinois among the nation’s top 15 public universities ... behind Michigan and Wisconsin but ahead of Ohio State and Big Ten neighbors Indiana, Purdue and Iowa. The Shanghai academic ranking of the world’s universities puts it No. 25 in the world, ahead of Northwestern and trailing only Michigan in the Big Ten.

Nor, despite ever-weakening state support, is the UI lacking in financial backing. The three campuses just shared in $2.43 billion raised by the UI Foundation from 242,000 donors. And while UI endowments don’t compare with Michigan’s $7 billion-plus, the school still ranks No. 20 among public institutions.

Face it, this campus is a powerhouse. It has the brand, the physical plant, the talent and the financial support.

What is it worth?
The preamble above is designed to get your mind right for a much-discussed and highly negative report on football by Ryan Brewer, professor of finance at the Indiana-Purdue campus in Columbus, Ind.

Brewer concludes that Illini football does not meet the campus standard in terms of talent, facilities, revenue and reputation. Brewer used an economic study to conclude that the UI football program, taken by itself, is last in the Big Ten in terms of value. In other words, if the team was put up for sale like an NFL franchise, it would fetch a mere $117.3 million, dead last in the Big Ten and No. 48 in the country.

Brewer’s list begins with Texas showing a sale value of $761.7 million, just ahead of Michigan at $731.9. Other Big Ten schools: Ohio State fifth at $586.6, Iowa 11th at $384.4, Nebraska 13th at $360.1, Penn State 16th at $300.8, Wisconsin 17th at $296.1, Michigan State 21st at $224.8, Northwestern 35th at $148.8, Purdue 38th at $145.1, Indiana 40th at $142.7 and Minnesota 42nd at $139.7.

Way down the list at No. 67 is Missouri (valued at $56.4 million), a rival that Illinois couldn’t solve in St. Louis meetings. That’s a bigger puzzle to me than the UI’s rating.

Brewer based his numbers on calculated intrinsic valuations, long-term revenues and expenses, cash-flow adjustments, risk assessments, growth projections and national brand. Attendance obviously figures in there somewhere, as does the ability to attract talent.

As coach, Tim Beckman faces a difficult combination of (1) geographical disadvantages and (2) the necessity of going long distances for talent and (3) a disillusioned fandom based on a half-century of sporadic performances (29 losers since 1963).

Many factors involved
“I’m sorry Illinois fell so low, but this is how the numbers came out,” Brewer said this week. “I used the same cutting-edge methodology that I’ve used for hundreds of private businesses and equities.”

Brewer acknowledged the (financial) condition of the state figured in. He views the UI and IU as similar even though the population in Chicago changes the nature of the two states. The closer proximity of Indiana and Purdue to Indianapolis is more favorable to them for attendance and corporate support.

“There is a correlation between performance and value,” Brewer said. “The Illinois football program could move up the list if it began to generate more revenue and sponsors. But it would take long-term performance over several years, not short term. People would still question the legitimacy if the Illini started 7-0 (Illinois opened 6-0 in 2011, then lost the next six). It takes time to build in terms of TV interest, donations and the rest.

“At the end of the day, Illinois is a well-respected university, and nothing about football affects its status. And I’d point out that if the football program was put up for auction, there might be buyers who would send the market price through the roof.”

Indiana’s traditional basketball success — five NCAA titles and a current Top 5 ranking — has little bearing on the football side of things.

“Football is four or five times more powerful than basketball,” Brewer said. “Duke’s basketball success might influence football fans to buy Duke apparel, but that success wouldn’t impact football TV contracts.

“What we see, as we move south, is an increase in football interest. For example, Auburn is in the middle of nowhere and yet has enormous cash flow. College football can be very strong in small towns and is a bigger draw in the Breadbasket and Deep South than in the Northeast. It is the cultural preference in the Southeast and Texas.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Illinois won’t be last when Maryland and Rutgers enter the league in 2014. They rank 56th and 63rd, respectively, on Brewer’s list, confirming my opinion that they need the Big Ten more than the Big Ten needs them.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports


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peterborich wrote on January 16, 2013 at 1:01 am

Mr. Ray of Sunshine this week, Loren.   Who needs negative

recruitment tactics from other schools, when we have you?


Bear8287 wrote on January 16, 2013 at 1:01 am

While there are Illini fans who deeply care about the Illinois football program, I found very little surprising about the information in this article.

It's not a secret that the football program has woefully underperformed and was even ranked second most underperforming in a Yahoo article. The worst underperforming program was UCLA, although after this season maybe Illinois has wrestled the top spot away from the Bruins. Brody Burns lists a number of advantages that both programs have and yet neither has lived up to expectations.

Location being a negative for Illinois is a lame excuse.  I suppose that Penn State's location must be superb given their history of success and ability to turn State College into the third largest city in the state on home game weekends. If you're in a big city, you can always use the excuse that your team has to compete in the market with professional teams and blah, blah, blah.

There's a reason why Coach Mackovic left after 4 seasons with 4 bowl appearances and the Illini haven't experienced that kind of success over a 4 year stretch since he has left.

If Gary Barnett could win a Big Ten championship and take Northwestern to a Rose Bowl, anything is possible. Oh and what advantages does Northwestern hold over Illinois when it comes to football?  I think most Illini fans would happily trade Illinois' record for theirs so far this millenium.

Oh, and you probably don't need to be a professor to figure this out either...

Go Illini!

CecilColeman wrote on January 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm

1) Long after Barnett and NU went to the Rose Bowl, Zook took the Illini.

2) High school football in Illinois stinks compared to Texas, Ohio, Florida, California, Pennsylvania.......to name a few.

3) Mackovic won with White's players and got out as fast as he could when he ran out of them and (see # 2).


Bear8287 wrote on January 21, 2013 at 2:01 pm

1) The big difference is that NU has been competitive since Barnett has left and they have gone to more bowl games during that time period too.

2) Since the 2000 season, NU has gone to twice as many bowl games (8) as Illinois (4).

3) The last time that I checked, NU is also in the state of Illinois. (It must be their great facilities that attract better recruits?)

4) There are 3 FBS programs in the state of Illinois.  Since the year 2000, Illinois ranks third out of those three in terms of overall record. (Even in Illinois, Illinois football is in last place.)

5) See #1, #2, #3 & #4 above...


List of NU bowl games since 2000 season:

2000 Alamo Bowl

2003 Motor City Bowl

2005 Sun Bowl

2008 Alamo Bowl
2009 Outback Bowl

2010 TicketCity Bowl

2011 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

2012 Gator Bowl


List of UI bowl games since 2000 season

2002 Sugar Bowl

2008 Rose Bowl

2010 Texas Bowl

2011 Fight Hunger Bowl

Illinigrad wrote on January 16, 2013 at 1:01 am

Please then, just sell the football program.  It would be much less misery on Saturdays.

pblillini wrote on January 16, 2013 at 7:01 am

This is just proof positive that Ron Guenther is one of the worst AD's in the history of Division 1 athletics.  Guy did an absolutely terrible job building the football program, mostly because he couldn't see the forest through the trees when it came to investing in it for positive returns.  He'd rather saddle the students with extra fees to try and balance the books, instead of investing in the program and trying to build it into something respectable.  Truly a shame that he was given a 20 year reign of terror in Champaign-Urbana.

illinihimeyiswhiney wrote on January 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Just wanted to confirm that in your comment you are in fact saying that Gunther was bad because he didn't spend the DIA into a giant hole on a gamble that a football program that had been consistently awful at best prior to his taking over? Do keep in mind that while many of us on here only care about football and MBB its the DIA not the DOF&MBB. I wonder what you imagine would have happened if he had spent the DIA into a hole and, despite all of us wishing otherwise, Illinois really couldn't manage to find football consistency due to geographical/population distribution issues. One hypothesis is that we'd be SOL like we are now but with a DIA on the verge of collapse due to no revenue and a budget that resembles the national debt... would welcome how you envision that playing out. 

blmillini wrote on January 17, 2013 at 11:01 am

Guenther did not understand the value of marketing a program through a coach or any other means.  It is the same thing you see from short sighted companies that focus their attention on cost cutting rather than building the brand.  Eventually those kinds of companies either fail or change.  We were well on our way to failure under Guenther.  I'm glad we have someone that better understands marketing running the show now even if he does have to deal with Guenther's leftovers for years to come.

illinihimeyiswhiney wrote on January 17, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Point well taken and a reasonable arguement. I'm not advocating on Gunther's behalf but I think we'd both be in agreement that had Gunther did what he did to keep the DIA in the black we'd be worse off now with his "leftovers" and no money to fix it.


I would beg to differ if you think the new guy understands the value of marketing a program through a coach... see video clips of Beckman flat on his back twice vs. NW. :)

patrick wrote on January 16, 2013 at 8:01 am

An interesting analysis, but, really, is there anything new here? I'm old enough to remember the early Pete Elliot days, when the Illini couldn't win. But, there was hope at that time, not just because Elliot was charismatic and inventive. It had only been a few years before when Ray Eliot had some good teams. There may not have been a tradition of "powerhouse" f-ball at the U, , but there were competitive.

Since then, it's been largely a downhill run, a lousy coach here, a scandal there, a few "false dawns" followed by a deepening tradition of bad football.  That's 50 years of bad or, at best, inconsistent football. A bowl game here or there, won't change that.

As the article points out, football just isn't that important to the administrators at the UofI.

PortlandIllini wrote on January 16, 2013 at 11:01 am

This information is not news to long-time Illini fans.   What is interesting to me is the apparent impact that football actually has on the overall university ranking.    How do you explain that the UI's international ranking has always been higher that the national ranking?   I believe that a poor sports image is a contributing factor. 

Let's face it:  if your team is a consistent loser,  don't you think that this image rubs off on your professors and students?   In constrast, constant media attention on a successful program leads people to believe that the academics are also high quality.

A test for you:  where does University of Oregon rank in the top 100 universities in America?

Answer:  they aren' t.    But Oregon's national ranking is climbing over the past decade mainly based on the success of the football program. 

DaisyJ wrote on January 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

Hate to deflate everyone, but football is on the way OUT. Head injuries will start to increase

as science learns more and more. Only the tip of the berg in regard to why play the game. It is not necessary to attempt to bruise  your brain, or ruin a joint or neck, or whatever just so guys can score 7. Wake up, how long did it take us to realize slavery was wrong. Lets try to get with the program. You high schools, your next, wake up.

blmillini wrote on January 17, 2013 at 11:01 am

Way too much money and interest involved for football to go away.  There will certainly be changes related to safety but it isn't going away.  If you think so, you are dillusional.

DaisyJ wrote on January 20, 2013 at 10:01 am

Dillusional is what ususally happens to people that have played too much football. You go ahead and support it, not me.

illini82 wrote on January 16, 2013 at 10:01 am

Yawn... The professor spent time, money and effort on pointing out the obvious....

Football doesn't matter at Illinois. Hasn't for 50 years (except for a 10 year blip from 82-92).

Look who we ended up with as our coach and how his first year went....and we kept him.

So there you go.

BigEasyCat44 wrote on January 16, 2013 at 11:01 am

Okay, So what happens to Maryland and Rutgers when they get a better split of bowl money and B1G Network money, I doubt theyll be 56th and 63rd respectively once they start getting B1G $$$

kzimmer001 wrote on January 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Thanks Ron Guenther!!