Fulks, who just completed a study of 2008 financial data to update his 2006 study, said 25 of the 120 FBS athletic departments generated more money than they spent. That's up from 19 in 2006, and the median surplus for the departments turning a profit jumped more than $1 million to $3.9 million. Now for the bad news. The other 95 departments ran a median deficit of $9.87 million. For public schools, taxpayer dollars usually cover that deficit. Fulks expects the gulf between the profitable and unprofitable departments to grow more next year because of the recession.
It's a useful divergence from the David vs. Goliath narrative to point out that the major conference powers direct millions of dollars back to their universities, while the non-BCS conference members suckle at the public teat to pay for their pads. Senator Hatch, you're supposed to be opposed to the latter behavior, are you not?
In a way, the BCS conferences find themselves in the position of the top league of English football in the early 90s. The solution for the top clubs was to essentially secede from the English FA to form the Premier League. As a result, the top league would now negotiate its own TV contracts and distribute revenue to its members, rather than having the FA do so for the top league as well as the number of leagues below. If the political pressure continues from low-revenue programs gets too great, then the high-revenue programs will react the same way that Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool did: we're going to form our own league so we can control the bushels of cash that we generate.
The irony of such a move is that it would make a playoff more likely, only it wouldn't be the playoff that Senator Hatch wants (unless Utah and BYU end up going with the high revenue group, in which case Hatch's new-found affection for the little guy will almost certainly evaporate). The primary obstacle to a playoff right now is control of revenue. Under the current system, the six major conferences and Notre Dame get to divvy up the pie as they see fit. (This is the major difference between college football right now and the English top division before the advent of the EPL.) They are opposed to a large playoff (certainly a large playoff) because of the possibility that they will lose control of the purse strings to the NCAA. If the 66 major programs form their own league, then they can make a playoff and distribute the money as they see fit.
[It probably bears mentioning that the BCS Conference schools are affiliated with the NCAA for reasons other than football. A full break from the organization seems radical and unlikely. Rather, what I'm imagining is that these schools assert control over their football division and shrink it.]
Hell, while we're imagining a better future, let's add in better out-of-conference match-ups as a second benefit to a smaller top division. Assuming that there are limits on playing teams from the lower divisions, the quality of non-conference games would shoot up if the BCS conference teams have to play each other more than once or twice a season. You think that the networks wouldn't be enthusiastic about this idea? In addition to a more lucrative playoff structure, major college football would have bigger TV contracts. Then again, with the BCS Conference teams playing each other in non-conference games, they will end up playing fewer home games, so there is a revenue downside to a smaller Bowl Subdivision.
In conclusion, Senator Hatch, please keep pushing. Free market conservatives are big on the law of unintended consequences; you have a great chance to illustrate the maxim.