Friday, May 17, 2013

Moneyball and College Football


So I finally watched Moneyball the other day (better late than never).  Being an avid baseball fan, I obviously knew the story, and the ultimate results (immediate and long-term).  Moneyball wasn’t the ONLY reason baseball began its monumental shift to a stat-driven, saber-metrics machine, but it definitely played its role (especially in the eye of the general public).

Much of the analysis I have consumed regarding the“Moneyball theory” boils down to one thing; market inefficiencies (or arbitrage opportunities).  Find a skill/quality/trait that is undervalued and capitalize.  Soak up the arbitrage opportunity until it either wears itself thin or everyone else catches on.  These opportunities allow an individual, company, or university to get surplus value for their money.  More bang for your buck.

Nowadays, with the onslaught of media/stats/analysis, these market inefficiencies usually have a smaller window, and, as a whole, are harder to come by.

But guess what, there just so happens to one of these “arbitrage opportunities” in college football.


Of every sport on Earth (yea, I looked them all up), coaches are BY FAR the most crucial in football.   It’s not even close.  Heck, every football team has about twenty of them.  They motivate, they strategize, they inspire, they recruit, they manage, they lead… they literally do everything except tackle and score touchdowns (somewhat important stuff, nonetheless).

Now the best coach in college football doesn’t immediately translate into wins, but given time, the cream truly does rise to the top.  Look at Chris Peterson; he has created something special in, of all the places, IDAHO!  Seriously?  Idaho?  Most educated people don’t even know where the state of Idaho is, let alone high school jocks. 

So where exactly is this market inefficiency I speak of?  Money.  It’s all in the money.  How much was Nick Saban worth to Alabama this year?  Way more than his meager 5+ million dollar salary, that’s for sure.  What was Kevin Sumlin worth to A&M this year?  Yea, you get the picture. 

(Sidenote:  they say Johnny’s Manziel’s Heisman victory was worth roughly $37 million dollars (and still counting) in exposure to Texas A&M.  And that is JUST the Heisman victory and its corresponding media parade, that doesn’t even take into account the incredible publicity on a game to game basis this past season.)

Back to coaches (the guy’s that actually do get PAID).

Texas A&M has a pretty nice pile of cash in their coffers.  And I am pretty sure MORE cash is being added to that pile each year than being taken away (especially this past one).  What makes that pile grow?  Winning, and winning often, and winning big. 

Winning results from a mix of coaches and players.  Players are unpredictable, irrational teenagers that don’t always pan out.  Bring in an electric talent, and then cross your fingers that it develops.  You know who develops talent?  Coaches.  You know who calls the plays and puts players in the position to succeed?  Coaches. 

Excuse me for repeating myself; I am only trying to stress the importance of coaches.  Take a look at this link showing the 2013 salary of all the SEC coaches.  You are telling me that all these schools couldn’t double those salaries if it meant bringing in the best of the best (granted some of them already have the best of the best)? 

A university is able to control who their coaches are with far greater certainty, than that of their players.  And how do they do that?  Money.   You want to win in college football and elevate the ENTIRE University?  Go buy the best coach.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t THAT simple, but it will definitely increase your odds.  Also, for the sake of this argument, take small schools out of the equations (they may actually have financial limitations); I am basing this argument on large, well-known, cash-heavy universities.  

Want to woo the best coach?  Offer him DOUBLE what he is making right now.  Let’s take the MOST expensive guy for example: Nick Saban and his $5 million dollar contract.  What in the world is stopping some school like Tennessee or Purdue (random enough?) from saying, “hey Nick, I know you have a pretty solid gig, but how ‘bout we give you $10 million dollars to come rejuvenate our program.”  Money talks, and I guarantee you, Nick Saban would at least take that $10 million dollar phone call.

What do you have to lose if you are Tennessee or Purdue?  Money?  Who cares, you make that stuff every year.  If the wallet starts feeling light, dip into the alumni coffers.  If I am a millionaire (and devout Tennessee alum) and you tell me I have the ability to influence Nick Saban?  Da gum, SIGN ME UP!

What about coordinators you say? Well, I honestly think the market inefficiency becomes even more apparent as you move on down the coaching totem pole.  Offensive and defensive coordinators… yea, those guys are pretty darn important too.  Want to get (or keep) the best?  Simple, offer them more money.   There are elite, TOP-NOTCH coordinators running around in college football capable of completely revamping one side of the football.  And you are telling me that’s not worth a million dollars?  Your school is notoriously known for defense, but can’t seem to figure out the other side of the ball?  Go find the next Kliff Kingsbury and offer him 1.5 million dollars to revamp your offense.  The best offensive and defensive minds (successfully) adapt to the personnel they are provided.    

Listen, this is just my theory.  There will always be conflicting factors such as ego, comfort, and loyalty, to name a few.  But you tell any coach in America that you will double his salary and I guarantee that coach will mull it over.  Coaches are competitors and want to be treated like so.  With a college football playoff around the corner, this dollar bill steam train is not slowing down.  Want to get on the fast track to that college football playoff?  

Make it rain.