While the annual “will Notre Dame join a conference?” discussion hasn’t been quite as consuming as it was in 2010 and 2011, the debate rages on as the major conference landscape continues to see a multi-year facelift (realistically, it’s more of a Botox injection gone wrong than a facelift). Specifically, there has been a significant amount of buzz surrounding swelling college football TV contracts, particularly with Florida State president Dr. Eric Barron releasing a statement about why the Big 12 may be more attractive than the ACC to FSU, specifically mentioning an extra $3 million per year in TV revenue.
Though we know for certain that the value of college football TV contracts has exploded, it is more difficult to pin down the amount of revenue per school since this information is not typically made public. Instead we are left to rely on “sources” listed in various news publications. And, of course, different sources offer very different numbers. Whether or not these unnamed sources are real or reliable is certainly in question, but for the sake of this post we will assume that the available information is somewhat accurate.
In 2008 Notre Dame signed an extension with NBC, with NBC buying the right to televise Irish home games from 2011 through 2015. Notre Dame never released the value of this contract, but did point out that from 1991 (the start of the NBC contract) through 2008, the TV deal had provided nearly $26 million in aid for about 2,400 Notre Dame students. At the time the extension was signed, ESPN reported that the existing contract was worth $9 million per year. In 2010, Richard Sheehan (ND finance professor who had been involved in earlier negotiations with NBC), told the Associated Press that he believed the NBC contract was worth well over $15 million per season.
Now let’s pause and take a vote: raise your hand if you have heard Irish-haters complain that the NBC deal is “ridiculous” and claim that Notre Dame won’t join a conference because they aren’t willing to give up this “lucrative” deal that other schools don’t have. Huh, every single reader is raising their hand? Not a surprise.
So is it true? Has ND really been raking in an incredible amount of dough that they refuse to share, shunning all conferences thanks to this 21-year-old TV deal? Looking at figures in the table above, it is clear that this is certainly not the case today. Sure, $15 million is nothing to sneeze at…unless you’re Northwestern or Minnesota or Arizona or Washington State cashing checks for $21 million, or Maryland or Wake Forest counting your $17 million.
Notre Dame runs a wildly profitable football program, one of the few football programs that builds cash for its parent institution instead of siphoning it away – but let’s put an end to the argument that the “lucrative NBC deal” is one of the reasons the Irish are not interested in joining a conference.