Conference realignment has shaken up the college football landscape over the past several years, but we’re finally witnessing the on-field effects of the most recent moves: Big Ten fans are beating their chests after Rutgers defeated Pac-12 opponent Washington State on Thursday; Louisville moved to 1-0 in the ACC standings after its win over Miami; and this Saturday, Notre Dame will play its last game against long-time rival Michigan to accommodate its new ACC opponents.
What won’t make ESPN or Fox Sports 1 are the secondary impacts on each athletic department’s bottom line.
Big Ten excitement and a much improved home schedule has vaulted Rutgers’ season ticket sales to record heights. The school has reportedly sold over 30,000 season ticket packages, a school record. It’s Big Ten opener against Penn State in September has already sold out weeks before kickoff. Donations to athletics are expected to increase 25 to 30 percent from the prior fiscal year.
Louisville has had similar success, also reporting a school record 46,149 season tickets sold. With home games against Miami and top-ranked Florida State, Louisville also has more valuable inventory to sell to corporate partners.
The financial implications on athletic departments benefiting from past conference changes are well documented. Louisville and Rutgers, the clear winners in the reshuffling, will dramatically increase their revenues from major conference payouts from about $4 million annually to closer to $30 million, as each school moves towards becoming fully vested members.
Yet it’s difficult to predict how each athletic department will pan out long-term in their new and improved conferences by looking at past movers.
Utah provides the closest proxy of what to expect from these two new respective ACC and Big Ten newcomers, because its move also resulted in a step up in competition level. In the three years since Utah left the Mountain West Conference for the greener, and more competitive, pastures of the Pac-12, Utah’s revenue-generating programs have little to show in terms of on-field success.