Restarting College Football From Scratch: Which 120 Schools Would Sponsor Football?

Is Your School One of the 120 Best Equipped to Play College Football?

Is Your School One of the 120 Best Equipped to Play College Football in Today’s Landscape?

Back in March, SB Nation’s Jason Kirk took a look at an interesting question: Where would you place a college football program if you were starting one completely from scratch? The considerations included current program geography, potential fan bases and to some degree, recruiting as well. Using these factors, both Jason and the commenters (myself included) recommended a flurry of current and hypothetical universities, with no clear choice above the rest. As it is the offseason, this is quite the entertaining exercise.

But taking that idea a step further, what if we decided to start the whole thing from scratch? Blow up the current college football landscape — structure, traditions, records, existing programs, etc. — and just completely start fresh. The only hard-and-fast rule? We’re choosing 120 schools, all of which either currently sponsor Division-1 or -II NCAA athletics and/or have an institutional endowment over $1 billion. Additionally, to narrow the consideration pool down a bit, I avoided all schools with less than 5,000 students, since it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to support football from a talent or fan standpoint (at the collegiate game’s highest level anyway).

Using these factors as guides, I built an available pool of 318 schools, and compiled the following information for each:

  • Endowment: In many cases, endowments are a nice measuring stick of a school’s ability to raise money. Since college football programs cost money and need similar fundraising to function, this should certainly come into play when considering a school’s ability to sponsor the sport.
  • Enrollment: It’s not the end-all, be-all of whether you can sponsor football, but fan support usually starts with students. If you don’t even have 7,000 students on campus, how are you supposed to draw more than 20,000 to Saturday’s game?
  • State Recruiting Ranking: This is a big one, because it examines how sustainable football is from a local recruiting level. If you’re a big school, but have no local base, that means you’re utilizing a national strategy. Likewise, if you’re a mid-size school, but exist in a large local base, you still have a significant chance of recruiting success.
  • Public/Private: Obviously, there are more public schools than private schools at the FBS level today, and in our setup, that’ll still be the case. Private schools won’t be eliminated from consideration at all, but if a decision must be made between a private school and public school, the public school will win out. Public institutions have an easier road toward attracting local talent, and in many cases support too, so that was taken into consideration on a few choice occasions.

First, the list. There, you can reference every school vetted in this process, with those chosen for our 120-team college football landscape highlighted in yellow. Below, we provide a state-by-state breakdown of the schools chosen, followed by some additional notes on the selection process and results. When you see state recruiting rankings in the document, please note these were obtained from MaxPreps, and are solely based on the 2013 recruiting season. All endowment and enrollment information was obtained using Wikipedia, or a quick Google search, when necessary.


  • Texas (9): Baylor, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, UTEP
  • Florida (7): Florida, Florida Atlantic, Florida Internatinal Florida State, Miami (FL), UCF, USF
  • California (6): California, San Diego State, Stanford, UC-Davis, UCLA, USC
  • Alabama (5): Alabama, Auburn, South Alabama, Troy, UAB
  • Indiana (5): Ball State, Indiana, IUPUI, Notre Dame, Purdue
  • North Carolina (5): Duke, ECU, NC State, North Carolina, Wake Forest
  • New York (5): Buffalo, Columbia, Cornell, NYU, Syracuse
  • Ohio (5): Cincinnati, Miami (OH), Ohio, Ohio State, Toledo
  • Pennsylvania (5): Drexel, Penn, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Temple
  • Georgia (4): Emory, Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Tech
  • Illinois (4): Illinois, Illinois at Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, Northwestern
  • Michigan (4): Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, Western Michigan
  • Virginia (4): Richmond, VCU, Virginia, Virginia Tech
  • Massachusetts (3): Boston College, Boston University, UMass
  • Missouri (3): Missouri, St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Oklahoma (3): Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tulsa
  • Tennessee (3): Memphis, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
  • Utah (3): BYU, Utah, Utah State
  • Arizona (2): Arizona, Arizona State
  • Colorado (2): Colorado, Denver
  • Iowa (2): Iowa, Iowa State
  • Kansas (2): Kansas, Kansas State
  • Kentucky (2): Kentucky, Louisville
  • Louisiana (2): LSU, Tulane
  • Mississippi (2): Mississippi, Mississippi State
  • Nevada (2): Nevada, UNLV
  • Oregon (2): Oregon, Oregon State
  • South Carolina (2): Clemson, South Carolina
  • Washington (2): Washington, Washington State
  • Wisconsin (2): UW-Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Connecticut (1): Connecticut
  • Delaware (1): Delaware
  • Hawaii (1): Hawaii
  • Idaho (1): Boise State
  • Maryland (1): Maryland
  • Minnesota (1): Minnesota
  • Nebraska (1): Nebraska
  • New Jersey (1): Rutgers
  • New Mexico (1): New Mexico
  • Washington D.C. (1): George Washington
  • West Virginia (1): West Virginia
  • Wyoming (1): Wyoming

… Hopefully you’re still with us. In total, 20 new teams were added to the college football landscape as a result of this setup. Some of the most notable current FBS teams left on the outside looking in included: Colorado State, Fresno State, Marshall, Northern Illinois, North Texas and Southern Miss (among others). We also removed the service academies from consideration, since their respective profiles did not necessarily fit what we were trying to accomplish with this exercise.

Of note, some additional thoughts on the way these teams were selected, and conditions that were outside of our control:

  • Public vs. private school breakdown: 90/30
  • Boise State vs. Idaho: The state of Idaho can’t sustain more than one team, and despite Idaho’s perceived superior stature according to the numbers listed, an extra consideration was pulled in — Moscow, ID v. Boise, ID. While neither’s a metropolis, Boise’s at least a “city” by some definition, and they received the nod.
  • Denver vs. Colorado State: Denver’s superior profile and larger city setting lofted them over the Rams, who ended up being among the final choices, but ultimately did not make it in. The state of Colorado could conceivably have three teams (and they do in real life), but there were just too many other schools with larger profiles available.
  • San Diego State vs. Fresno State: The nod ultimately went to the Aztecs based on location (sunny San Diego against middle-of-nowhere Fresno), but otherwise, the two were a dead-heat. San Jose State was also considered here, though admittedly, California could conceivably support another three or four schools given its second-ranked recruiting profile.
  • New York’s Five Teams & Massachusetts’s Three: Given the two state’s recruiting profiles (NY is 26th overall, while Mass is 35th), it may appear strange that the two have eight teams combined. But with two of the country’s greatest cities in their respective footprints, the rest of New England up for grabs, and New Jersey (11th in recruiting) having just one team, there’s ample opportunity for all to thrive.
  • Under-served States: California (6) was mentioned earlier, but you can also add Georgia (4), Illinois (4), Ohio (5) and Louisiana (2) to the list. All could conceivably support more teams (hence the additions of schools like Loyola Chicago and Emory), but there just doesn’t appear to be the school that truly has a case against many of the other late additions. Louisiana, in particular, was primed to have more teams (in fact, they lost several in this deal), but infrastructure-wise, there were just better options out there in other states. Virginia (4) could potentially be argued as under-served here, but with the state potentially adding two more teams in real life (Old Dominion and James Madison), we’ll have to wait and see how that ends up working out.

Questions, comments, objections? I’m sure there’s plenty to consider and plenty of different ways to look through this information depending on your point of view. Are there any glaring schools missing (currently FBS or not), or schools that you believe have no business being up there? Voice your opinion below.

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6 thoughts on “Restarting College Football From Scratch: Which 120 Schools Would Sponsor Football?

  1. Just to ask, where would FBS new-comers in 2015 Appalachian State & UNCC fall? Both have large student bodies, good endowments, and fall in NC which already supports 5 decent (but not great) teams.

    • Of those schools that were under heavy consideration come the end of the process (had about 95 “locks,” followed by another 25 to add), UNC Greensboro was actually next in line of the NC schools. Higher endowment than both schools and higher enrollment than Appalachian, plus both UNCG and Charlotte are in better locations than Boone. It would’ve been a close call, but I’d say you could put UNCG and Charlotte among the first 10-15 out.

        • Well it’s not about the current state of the football program or athletics department, though. So despite any feelings folks have on these teams currently, those largely have to be throw out the window in favor of the info we’re using for comparison (which everyone can parse through up above).

  2. Interesting project. I see that Wyoming has a larger endowment than Montana or Montana State, but I’m pretty sure the level of support the Montana schools receive is comparable at least to Wyoming–I think they both draw around 20,000 to games, and that’s splitting the state between them. And Montana seems to have a little more going for it, with twice the population and a growing economy. I might choose the Grizzlies instead of the Cowboys.
    Also, wow! I thought SC put out a lot more talent than 22nd.

    • Admittedly, the Wyoming v. Montana decision was a close one. Knew I needed one, just didn’t know which, so I went with the Cowboys. Could’ve totally gone the other way though — nice catch.

      SC was very close to the top 20, but was faced with the same issue as Louisiana and a few other states — have the recruiting base to sustain as many as four schools or so, but none of the state’s institutions (outside of those top two) really have the ability to support football.

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