There is no recession when it comes to big-time college football, where hundreds of millions are spent to renovate stadiums, stealth fighters are hired to entertain fans and head coaches can make several million dollars a year. That's because football programs have become critical tools in a race to raise revenues, bolster images and ultimately, win bowl games and championships that will attract more students and better players next year. Armen Keteyian reports on the peaking popularity of college football on 60 Minutes Sunday, Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT.
The University of Michigan Wolverines play in a 112,000-seat stadium, the biggest in the country and recently renovated to the tune of $226 million. The school is a perennial power, but Michigan's athletic director, Dave Brandon, tells Keteyian you can never sit still in what many call an arms race. "If you don't keep pace, if you don't stay competitive, you're going to have a problem."
With the revenue from the football program paying for 75 percent of all the other sports programs under him at the 40,000-student public university, Brandon has a huge responsibility. "We're going to have excited fans, we're going to fill stadiums, we're going to be on TV. We're going to accomplish all the goals that we need to accomplish to keep this department moving ahead," says Brandon, who once hired a stealth fighter to fly over Michigan's stadium to fire up the crowd.
Brandon's work paid off in spades recently. His team was picked by ESPN to play a televised, season debut game against the Alabama Crimson Tide a few months ago. Alabama has the ideal football program and one of the country's highest-paid coaches in Nick Saban, who makes more than $5 million per year. Is he worth it asks Keteyian? "Probably not," says Saban with a laugh. "But I think the other side of that is you almost have to look at what return has there been on that investment." Alabama has won two national championships in three years and profits have nearly tripled since he took the job in 2007.
The Alabama-Michigan game was viewed on television by millions. It stoked interest in the coming seasons of both teams, selling tickets and merchandise. It burnished images of big, successful universities potential students could be proud to attend. It's the kind of reality that's only a dream for other schools, but still an essential goal for many of them, like Towson University in Maryland.
Towson is about half the size of schools like Michigan and Alabama and plays in a subdivision of Division I in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. It's good football, but not in a league with Alabama, Michigan or another powerhouse, Louisiana State University. But when the Towson Tigers were asked to play LSU in a televised match, a certain loss, the team saw a win-win situation.
Not only did the game mean a guaranteed $500,000 from LSU -- money to seed scholarships for future players and to improve facilities, among other things to pump its program up -- but a chance at national and historic exposure. "They'll be more people watching this game tonight than perhaps have ever watched anything to do with Towson University in our history, going back 146 years," says its athletic director, Mike Waddell.
The Tigers kept it close until the second half and lost 38-22 in what could be considered a very respectable showing and a single step up the ladder towards elite, big-time status someday. Says Waddell, "You couldn't buy this type of an advertisement nationally."