The Clemson-South Carolina Rivalry: Are the Gamecocks putting the Tigers in the Financial Rear-View Mirror?

Dabo Swinney: Doesn't care about the money.

One of my closest friends is a big-time Clemson fan from a dyed-in-the-orange-wool Clemson family. We've given each other static since the 1980s about CU-USC; based on the record book it's no surprise that he has had the upper hand in smack-talk for most of that time. You all probably have friends just like him.

Since the three-peat, however, I've taken to telling my buddy that Clemmy is now firmly planted in USC's "rear-view mirror" - that not only do we not foresee ever losing to the Tigers again, but that we no longer view them as much of a rival - e.g., compared to Georgia. Good natured trash talk like this is what keeps the rivalry interesting.

While my pal dismisses the notion that the worm has turned in the rivalry, he will admit concern, however, about the revenue disparity that's emerged between the two Palmetto State programs. In that vein, over at Shakin the Southland the redoubtable Figure Four has posted about public university financial data recently released from USA Today; vis-a-vis Clemson-USC, the numbers don't look good for the Tigs.

Should our Clemson friends be concerned? Is there an actual advantage for Carolina emerging on the ledger books? Have we put the Tigers into the financial rear-view? Keep reading after The Jump to see the tale of the (ticker) tape.

As Figure Four reports, the Gamecocks (20th) led Clemson (39th) in FY2011 total revenue by $83,813,226.00 to $61,174,977.00 for a difference of $22,638,249.

Likewise, in FY2011 expenditures, Carolina (19th) out-spent CU (43rd) by the sum of $80,525,711.00 compared to Clemson's $58,367,884.00 - or by $22,157,827.

Tiger Athletics did turn in a respectable profit of $2,807,093.00 (31st), but if you go to the source material, you learn Carolina was not far behind with a net revenue-to-expenditure number of $3,287,515 (adjusted to $1,039,240 when the $2,248,275 subsidy from the University is taken into consideration).

Lest you think that our subsidies (2.7% of the budget) are artificially high, keep in mind that Clemson subsidized $5,106,024 (8.3%). By way of comparison, UGA subsidized $3,197,387 [3.5%] while Florida put $4,367,071 [3.5%] into its program from general funds.

We all know the old saw about lies, damn lies and statistics - but the numbers tell a pretty convincing tale. When you look at the raw data from 2007-2011 (by clicking on both schools), Clemson's revenues and expenditures have stayed fairly static (typically in the $55-$60m range) while South Carolina's have exploded over the last three years. The Gamecocks are leaving the Tigers behind not only in generating athletic dollars but also spending them on athletic programs.

The causation is clear. South Carolina is riding the SEC's unprecedented money-making wave, while the ACC is holding Clemson down like a sea-anchor. Figure Four concludes as much:

You don't have to be a mathematician to realize that Clemson trails quite a few schools in revenue generation. This severely limits how much Clemson can, in turn, spend on their athletic programs. What you also noticed was the lack of ACC representation in the above statistics, particularly inside the top 20. You see many SEC, Big Ten, and Big XII. Those are the leagues committed to football and their commissioner goes out and fights for things like better television deals and in-house networks. There is no way one can argue that the ACC is a big reason Clemson ranks so low in many of these financial categories.

My Clemson pal sees the problem, too. To paraphrase his sentiments, he - like many CU fans- believes that the combination of IPTAY and Clemson's adherence to more conservative budgets (overall) have kept them competitive with USC so long as the financial gap was in the $3m-$5m range. In other words, the Tigers felt they could more than offset Carolina's financial lead so long as the delta wasn't unreasonable. Recently, however, the numbers are making him uneasy; as much as he loves the ACC (and more particularly the Tigers' football domination of that league) he was of a mind that perhaps a Big XII move would be the only way to bridge the gap - if not now, then in the immediate future. It was a bit of a bitter pill for him to consider.

I'm not going to pass judgment on whether he's right or wrong; I'm just passing along what is probably a common sentiment among savvy Clemson fans - even if it is not yet the received wisdom at Tiger Town. The handwriting is spray-painted on the wall, however. Carolina is going to start out-earning Clemson by anywhere from 50-75% in the very near future. That translates to $9m-$13m more dollars going to Columbia than Clemson every year for at least a decade if not longer.

Contemplate that, Tiger faithful, on the tree of woe.

Bluntly, this is a total role-reversal for the Clemson and Carolina. When Governor "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman (later U.S. Senator) used his clout to convert John C. Calhoun's old country place into the Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina, his faction made sure that it was funded with fertilizer taxes, while USC's budget was slashed to the bone - which made Clemson much stronger financially in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It really was not until after the Second World War, when powerful state senator Sol Blatt and visionary USC President Donald S. Russell (himself a future governor and US Senator) pushed USC firmly ahead with respect to state support. In terms of football fund-raising, however, Clemson's IPTAY has long been richer and larger than the Gamecock Club; IPTAY was the gold standard in booster clubs in the post-WWII era. But that's all firmly rooted in the past.

The present reality is that the SEC is contemplating future TV contracts which are expected to eclipse the Big Ten and Pac-12 TV deals - all while the ACC is getting left behind at the television altar. In other words, with the new ACC-ESPN contract Clemson can look forward to making what USC makes now - while Carolina (and its SEC sisters) will see revenues skyrocket up over $25m per annum even before third-tier rights are calculated into the equation. The fact that a true SEC network is also back on the drawing board will likely push that figure up further.

By contrast, the ACC has re-pledged third tier rights to ESPN to the league's detriment (at a time when other conferences have clawed back third tier rights in their new network deals); plus the ACC doesn't have plans for its own in-house network a la the B1G, Pac-12 or the SEC. In light of its married-to-the-mob deal with ESPN, the ACC is probably precluded from creating a network anyway. Things aren't going to be getting better for the Atlantic Coast Conference anytime soon.

Dabo - in classic Swinney-esque fashion - is on record saying ‘going to the Big 12 would be the worst thing we could do’ and 'doesn't make any sense.' Obviously, Coach Swinney didn't major in math while he was at Bama. Otherwise, he hasn't wrapped his head around what the difference between $25 million versus $17 million will mean to his program. It's not just South Carolina, but Georgia, Florida and Tennessee - all CU recruiting rivals - who are going to be rolling in cash very soon. If ACC football doesn't somehow magically transform itself into a moneymaking machine in the next few years (which is highly doubtful), Clemson is going to see all of its non-ACC competitor programs begin to out-spend them at unprecedented levels - unless it finds a new conference home, that is. They won't be able to keep up. It's a simple as that.

I'm not saying that Clemson will turn into a paper tiger anytime soon. Clemson has been recruiting elite players and will always have some excellent selling points to lure in top prospects. IPTAY is still a formidable weapon it the Tiger arsenal - as demonstrated by its funding of a new indoor practice facility. If it comes down to money, Clemson will always make sure football is funded; it will cede basketball to us and won't bother adding sports. Maybe CU can make a run in the ACC that puts it in the future "FBS" playoff hunt. It might work out for them in the end. IPTAY funds might not be taken into full consideration either. In any event, Tiger football isn't going away without a fight. If it jumps to a new league, or the ACC fixes what ails 'em, then its back to spur-and-claw on relatively equal financial footing.

But I suspect the cumulative effect is going to be real. Already, South Carolina has been addressing long-term systemic problems - e.g., the lack of ambience around Williams-Brice Stadium - that put us at a disadvantage with schools like Clemson and Georgia that had more aesthetically pleasing on-campus surroundings for their stadia, which doubtless gave them a leg-up on recruiting against us. With the Farmer's Market Project, the new video board scheduled to be unveiled this season, plus the recent fair grounds makeover and stadium renovation, South Carolina is rapidly turning Williams-Brice into a jewel. Think about what it will mean for W-B to have an on-campus feel - after years of being criticized as a run-down facility in an even-more run-down light industrial zone - and in the process rectifying what I consider to have been a grave mistake made in the 1930s by moving our football facilities out to the fairgrounds.

Facilities upgrades worth $154 million are putting us on a different level in terms of locker room, weight room and recruiting rooms inside W-B too. Plus, the Dodie academic center is already another jewel in our cap. Phase II of the master facilities plan calls for our own new indoor practice facility in 2014 ($14m) and a new Athletics Performance Facility ($15m) in 2016. Consider that we might be able to pay for those projects out of current funds. Put yourself in the mindset of a recruit visiting Carolina in the next couple of years. It's going to be dazzling.

Without SEC money, it would all be an impossible dream. Instead, it's a present-day reality.

No, we're not talking about Clemson-USC turning into Vandy-Tennessee. But the money advantage can't be ignored by the Tigers forever. Clemson may be happy to stick with the ACC - for the time-being. But they're definitely in the rear-view on the money front for the foreseeable future. That has to warm Gamecock hearts everywhere.

And give palpitations to Clemson fans.

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