If college football teams could be bought and sold on the open market like their professional counterparts, Virginia Tech’s would net about $308.5 million, while the University of Virginia’s would sell for $159.3 million. Those guesstimates come from Ryan Brewer, an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.
Both teams would rank among the Top 50 of the most valuable college football franchises in the country, with Virginia Tech in 23rd place and UVa in 44th place. Brewer based his calculations on each program’s revenues, expenses, cash flow adjustments, risk assessments and growth projections.
That got me to thinking. Football contributes nothing to colleges’ core academic mission of preparing young people for life. Would it be practical to spin off the football teams as stand-alone, for-profit enterprises? Think about it. If Virginia Tech and UVa could sell their football enterprises, they would reap a $470 million windfall between the two of them. They could use that money to expand academic offerings, invest in technology, reduce debt, reduce tuitions, build endowments or contribute usefully to university life in many ways.
Severing the connection between universities and their football teams would be tricky, of course. The football teams rely upon the universities for their fan base. Universities bask in the glow of their teams’ athletic success. The tribal enthusiasm engendered by successful athletic programs builds student and alumni loyalty and boosts donations. Any spin-off agreement would have to address who owns the football stadiums and related real estate. New questions would arise whether football teams should start paying their “student” athletes.
Any arrangement would have to recognize the symbiotic relationship between the football team and its corresponding university. But severing ownership ties would allow universities to focus on their core missions: educating students and, for larger institutions, conducting research. As it stands now, universities function as not-for-profit conglomerates, mixing education and research missions with a sports-entertainment mission. I think divesting football teams — and male basketball teams as well — is an idea well worth exploring.
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