clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

100 Days to Kickoff: Opinion Week - Georgia Tech Should not Give Up the Spread Option

Despite the lean years, Tech cannot stray from the option

NCAA Football: Georgia at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If we try and recruit the same types of players here at Tech as our rivals do, we will lose. Annually, Georgia Tech nets about $43,200,000 in football revenue. Compared to Alabama, Auburn, uga, Florida State, and Clemson, who average about $86,200,000, we’re practically just making pennies on the dollar. Our total athletic budget was about $77 million in 2015-16 (the most recent year available), ranking last among public schools in the ACC.

This revenue gap is painfully evident in the facilities that these schools are able to afford. Clemson opened a $55 million football operations facility last year complete with a bowling alley, a barber shop, a nap room, a slide, a 60-person cold tub, and a wiffle ball field. uga is currently building a new locker room and recruiting lounge with a price tag of $66 million. Florida State is planning a new facility that will set the athletic department back $80 million. As superficial as this all sounds, facilities mean a lot to a 17-year-old deciding where to spend the next three or four years of his life, and these schools have beautiful ones.

The crowning jewels of Georgia Tech football facilities are our football office, completed last year, and our locker room, slated to be complete this summer. Together, they only cost $5 million.

This deficit is the unfortunate truth for Georgia Tech in the arms race that college football has become, and it makes contending on an annual basis a nearly impossible challenge.

Instead, we go about building a contender our way. Recruiting players labeled “undersized” or “tweener” by so-called experts, and turning them into all-ACC performers. Holding the ball for minutes on end and frustrating opposing players, coaches, and fans. Putting opponents away with patented Paul Johnson Death Marches. Holding our athletes to a higher standard in terms of character and academic performance.

For those who call the spread option an outdated, high-school offense, I hear you. It’s easy to get caught up in the modern-day style of offense watching teams sprint up and down the field at breakneck pace, running plays out of the shotgun and spreading the field. But look around. Listen to the quotes from other coaches. Look at the rule changes, look at the weekly pandering to officials from those same coaches. Look at the practice time that uga took out of its game plan every week last year to prepare for nobody but the Ramblin’ Wreck. If that doesn’t convince you, look at the statistics. Over the ten seasons of the option, Tech has ranked inside the top 25 in FBS seven times in offensive FEI, an efficiency metric. Six of those ten years, the jackets have ranked inside the top 25 in third down conversion rate. These numbers and others provide ample evidence that the spread option can be successful in division 1 college football.

For those who think Paul Johnson needs to go and needs to take the option with him, I hear you. I completely agree that 17-19 over a three year stretch is not good enough. To this crowd, I say look at our defense. Under defensive coordinator Ted Roof, the defense has ranked 95th, 73rd, and 68th in FBS in yards per play over the past three years. Look at our special teams. While normally below average, Tech ranked 125th out of 130 FBS school last season in special teams efficiency. That’s horrible. That’s unacceptable. That very well might be the reason the team only won five games last year. Blaming the spread option for the 17-19 record is an egregious misjudgment of responsibility.

To prove this point further, we compare win-loss record to athletic budget size over the ten years of the option here at Tech. Here is a graph of the 16 smallest athletic budgets of public schools in the Power 5, sorted by budget rank for the fiscal year 2015-16. For context, Washington State has the smallest budget, while Kansas has the 16th smallest. As you can see, Georgia Tech has the 3rd smallest. Data is not made public for private schools.

As you can see, Georgia Tech fares pretty well. Only Virginia Tech, Utah, and Kansas State have better win percentages, and all can be explained in some way. Utah just transitioned to the Pac-12, and much of their damage was done against mediocre competition in the Mountain West. Virginia Tech pours money into football at an ungodly rate, ranking second in FBS in terms of percentage of athletic budget spent on football. Kansas State is harder to explain, but Bill Snyder is a legend in Manhattan, so it makes sense. However, it is clear that the option has allowed Tech to punch above its weight class over the last ten years.

Looking to the future, it cannot be ignored that Paul Johnson is 61 years old and won’t be coaching on the Flats forever. Fortunately, there will be no shortage of outstanding spread option coaches waiting in the wings to follow in his footsteps. The reluctance of other Power 5 teams to adopt the system means that coaches like Ken Niumatalolo, 84-48 in his ten years at Navy, Jeff Monken, who has turned Army from 4-8 to 10-3 in just four years, and Brian Bohannon, a former Tech assistant who took over a brand-new program at Kennesaw State in 2015 and has compiled a 26-10 record, including 12-2 this past year; will almost certainly all be available to Tech when the time comes.

We all want Georgia Tech to compete for division, conference, and national championships on an annual basis, and playing in a conference like the ACC gives Tech that opportunity. We just can’t do it the same way as the other guys. The spread option gives Georgia Tech an identity on the national stage, something that so many schools similar to Tech lack. This identity should live on, long after our favorite curmudgeon’s coaching career comes to a conclusion here on the Flats.