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Would we be so gauche as to suggest that some students, when scouting their choice of universities, rely on extracurricular factors like...oh, to make their decisions? Of course not. That would be like suggesting that a university would tout its proximity to beaches, or its ample recreation facilities as assets making it more attractive than others. In other words: of course they do, without shame or compunction.

At Georgia Tech, geeks keep it wet.

Football and its surrounding traditions and hoopla present a layered pitch for universities, encompassing much of what a university seeks to promote about itself. Football, more so than other student activities, carries a lot in its metaphorical wheelbarrow: tradition, excellence (at least in fielding mauling teams capable of skilled, cooperative, and strategic violence,) youthful exuberance and all its attendant activities. It presents a cohesive brand in a single image without too much labor or explanation, a sense of communal identity comforting the uneasy student leaving home for the first time.

If having a winning program is an incentive, though...who's getting bang for their buck? Every year U.S. News and World Report makes a mint by poring through reams of data, coming up with some metrics, and publishing their report, which costs $14.95 in its most extravagantly detailed form ("Wow, mom, they've got the 14th best entomology program in the nation!") We, on the other hand, won't charge you a dime for our rankings of who in 2005 got the best pure bang for their buck in college football.


The numbers we used are pretty simple: the total football budget of each top 25 school, the total undergraduate population, and the final rankings for the 2005 season. We divided up the cost into burden per undergrad, and then ranked these accordingly.

The top 25 schools, listed by burden per undergrad:

1. Notre Dame
2. Boston College
3. Miami
4. Virginia Tech
5. USC
6. Alabama
7. Auburn
8. TCU
9. Ohio State
10. Texas Tech
11. Oklahoma
12. Nebraska
13. Oregon
14. Clemson
15. West Virginia
16. Louisville
17. California
18. Florida
19. UCLA
20. Georgia
21. LSU
22. Wisconsin
23. Texas
24. Penn State
25. Florida State

Before anyone completely flips their lid over this, let's keep a few things in mind. First, the math is totally primitive, and an admitted simplification. We're not including graduate students and their fees due to the diverse sources of funding and the fluid classification of grad students in their own programs (Ph.D/Master's combo programs, T.A.s, and the zillion other semi-supported in-residence, or other types of graduate support.) Undergrads get support, too, but in order to simplify things a bit without losing all indicative power, we trimmed the sample down to the bulk of most institutions' student bodies, undergrads; not all of the money comes directly from undergrad's pockets (hello to our good friends at Citibank!) but as any registrar will tell you, the money does for damn sure get to its intended destination: the university.

What's surprising? Not the prevalence of private schools at the top, since students there pay more for their education to begin with, and will naturally contribute more from the start. The shocker is the five public schools whose students bear the greatest burden per student: Virginia Tech, Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, and Texas Tech all rank in the top ten, with Virginia Tech leaping ahead of USC for the four spot. We can't say we're totally surprised at Ohio State--who, by the numbers, should be toting its athletes around on gilded sedan chairs and feeding them beluga--but Texas Tech? What costs that much in Lubbock?

If that is indeed a bong, we've uncovered one of the reasons VT football costs so much.

Another surprise: the lack of Big Ten teams. Only three Big Ten teams make the list, with Penn State and Wisconsin bringing up the rear with profligate OSU taking the conference crown at ten. The SEC has a very unsurprising five, the same number as the ACC, though the ACC ranks far and away above any other conference in placement, with three of the top four burden per students coming from the conference.

Interesting, sure. Not what we wanted to find out, though--who's getting the best bang for their bank. We then divided the school's final program rank by their per capita burden to see who was getting the most sheer college football value for each dollar spent among the top 25 schools. Our results, with notes following each one:

Results: Bang For Your Football Buck.

1. Texas. Finishing number one in the country pretty much guarantees you this spot in our half-assed study, but even fiddling with the rankings a bit, Texas still comes off as a money-savvy choice for the economically conscious college football fan. A huge student body offsets the individual costs while maintaining healthy budgets across the board through sheer numbers.

2. Penn State. Penn State ranked 3rd in the nation against a total student burden ranking of 24th, which will get you pretty high on this scale every time. PSU has the luxury of a coach who's been there since the Fillmore administration and existing facilities that require upkeep and not expensive new investment. Stability and a large student body again offset a large athletics budget for the individual football consumer.

3. LSU. How this happened we're really, really not sure. LSU's big business in Lousiana, but LSU's high ranking alone doesn't explain how they ended up this high on the list. Cost of living, perhaps?

4. West Virginia. Cost of living, sure, but the suprising finish for the Mountaineers and the recognized thrift and skillful management of the WVU athletics programs deserve credit, too. Few schools get as much out of as little as WVU, all the more impressive since their student body is a little over half the size of a Florida or a Texas. A well-struck balance for the football consumer between value and quality.

5. USC. Hey, you pay but you get what you pay for. USC may shell it out, but their relatively large student body and astronomically high rankings over the years of the Carroll era make them the one of the best buys around, football-wise, even at private school prices.

6. Ohio State. Sweater vests don't come cheap, but when you're splitting the cost with 33,000 other students--hell, buy thirty more on us, Jim. Big student body, coaching stability, and high rankings= Cheatypants pitching the program like Tony Robbins-does-church youth group leader.

7. Georgia. Athens--cheap enough, and home of Mark Richt, who's seemingly good for a top ten finish every year.

8. Florida. Cost of living's nice, and legions of fellow students pass around the hat to share costs.

9. Wisconsin. Barry runs it smart, and as the full-time AD, will likely keep it up.

10. UCLA. Huh?

11. Florida State. Another old, efficient machine. Living in Tally helps, too.

12. Oregon. Facilities that make the Arizona Cardinals blush.

13. Louisville.

14. Alabama. Bama fans spend a lot per head for this rank, and do so in a relatively cheap setting. Hmm...

15. TCU. Takes cash to be king of the Mountain West, homey.

16. California. Paying a bit to get..well, maybe a little less than you'd like at this point. Costs of the Bay Area must figure into this equation somewhere.

17. Clemson. If we were Clemson students, we'd want auditors. Now.

18. Virginia Tech. Blacksburg must be sleepier than we thought, since we had no idea there was this kind of cash rolling around in the streets up there. Does Jenkins have a gambling problem?

19. Auburn. Another regional head scratcher here.

20. Texas Tech. The ultimate conundrum: what the hell is going on here spending wise?

21. Oklahoma. A state school with a high per student burden in a down year.

22. Nebraska.

23. Miami. No real surprise here.

24. Notre Dame. With the highest per student burden of any school in the top 25, Notre Dame has to finish in the top 5 to get even close to the top ten for football value.

25. Boston College. Question: is anyone at BC (besides Bill) this enthused over football? Anyone?