The Bob Huggins Factor
I read every book I can get my hands on about the business of college sports. After all, I want to bring you all the best coverage, and sometimes that means taking a look at the work of other writers.
I recently finished Varsity Green: A Behind the Scenes Look at Culture and Corruption in College Athletics by Mark Yost. It was extremely accessible to the average college football fan and covers a variety of topics from the emphasis of the athlete part of student-athlete to coaching salaries, stadium costs and NCAA regulation. Although I was far from agreeing with everything in the book, I thought it was a great read.
I wanted to share with you all my favorite part of the book. Not word for word, of course, but a story from the book that some of you may already know. It’s the part of the book I’ve talked about the most with other people and it comes right at the beginning in the Introduction.
The Introduction is called The Huggins Factor. It discusses what Bob Huggins did for Kansas State in one year as men’s basketball coach. It also illustrates a bigger topic I’m covering in my book on the business of college football, and that’s what an athletic department can do for a university overall.
The Huggins Factor is simple: a well-known coach (although for many of the wrong reasons) can create buzz for a program and with success on the court can lift up not just an athletic department but an entire university. The author notes that Bob Huggins was an odd hire for Kansas State, who had previously been known more for their academic success in the athletic department than men’s basketball program. Huggins brought with him a lot of baggage, including a 0% graduation rate for his players over the previous few seasons, a DWI conviction of his own and a reputation for being a little less than media-friendly. So why did Kansas State hire Bob Huggins to come to their academically-touted university? Money, Yost says.
Bob Huggins only stayed at Kansas State for one year. However, in his one year, he saw season ticket sales increase from 5,800 to 11,000, a sellout when you factor in the student ticket allotment. In fact, Kansas State sold out again the next year, despite Huggins’ departure. Revenue from season ticket sales more than doubled from $1.2 million to $2.7 million. Alumni donations increased by $3 million.
In addition to direct revenue from basketball, Huggins year with Kansas State impacted the entire athletic department. The men’s basketball team made their first national television appearance in decades during Bob Huggins year with them. They would go on the next year to see over half their regular season games featured on ESPN. This is important in the Big 12, because conference distributions are based on television appearances (for non-conference games).
In what must also be considered a result of the national exposure, Kansas State sold 30% more school apparel than in previous years. The school moved into the top 35 in sales for The Collegiate Licensing Company, moving from merely regional interest to national prominence. In addition, Huggins helped the athletic department secure a $10 million shoe and apparel deal for all varsity sports. Apparently Kansas State had been seeking a deal like this from Nike for years, but it was Bob Huggins who sealed the deal.
In the book, Kansas State Athletic Director Bob Cavello is quoted as saying: “Bob Huggins gave us a national presence, both as a basketball team and as a university.” I’d be willing to be Kansas State saw an increase in applications to the university following Bob Huggins one-year stay.
When Huggins arrived in 2006, Kansas State hadn’t been in the NCAA Tournament in ten years. Since his stay, they have been in the tournament three times. Obviously this isn’t all because of him, current coach Frank Martin deserves some credit, but it seems obvious to me that Bob Huggins started something important at Kansas State. Something they’ve been smart enough and fortunate enough to sustain ever since.
Remember when I discussed whether coaches are overpaid and the Gus Malzahn Effect? Consider this: Kansas State paid Bob Huggins just over $1 million dollars for his one year at Kansas State. How much did he bring them? I’d say somewhere around $20 million, conservatively. You’ve got $14.5 million between the increase in ticket sales and alumni donations, another $10 million for the Nike deal and then the increase in conference distribution and royalties. Maybe the Bob Huggins Factor will convince you that some of these coaches are worth their weight in gold for athletic departments and for universities.