The Heisman Trophy is one of the most well-known awards in not only college athletics, but all of sports. Few individuals honored to have hoisted all 25 pounds above their head are forever tied to that magical day. Every article, every story will have "former Heisman Trophy winner" added onto their name as a lifetime achievement award. The impact on their lives varies, as the first winner of the then named DAC Award, Jay Berwanger of Chicago, never played professional football. Berwanger gave up the game for a life in business. Others will go on to be legends of the game, like Roger Staubach, Earl Campbell, or Barry Sanders.
But we are not here to dive into the players and the impact the Heisman has on their lives, but rather the life and success of the program they leave in their wake. While 79 players have won the trophy in its 80 year existence (Archie Griffin won it in 1974 and 1975), only 38 schools can claim a Heisman Trophy winner in their records books. 21 such schools can claim just a single winner, with another 8 on the list with 2. Ohio State and Notre Dame are tied for the most winners, with 7 apiece, followed by USC (6), and Oklahoma (5).
After winning such a tremenous award and joining a rather limited fraternity, what should a program do to capitilize on this success? Or rather, what should they avoid doing to tarnish any gains made from the national publicity they garnered.
The financial impact on winning a Heisman in today's age is worth untold millions. Baylor University estimated that they earned the equivalent of $14 million in media mentions the month that Griffin won the Heisman. Texas A&M initially estimated that Johnny Manziel's Heisman win in 2012 "generated $37 million in advertising exposure" for the University.
Media exposure is just a small slice of the pie though. All told, Baylor estimates a $250 million in extra revenue. That comes in the form of an increase in donations to the Baylor Bear Foundation, ticket sales, licensing fees, sponsorship deals, and a better television package.
Financially, that is a huge benefit to the program and the University. However, what do you do with that money, exposure and "buzz" around your program to maximize the impact and to help bring your football program to a higher level. How do you turn your flash in the pan success into a sustainable program that is in the national elite?
The most logical way to profit off of a Heisman win is on the recruiting trail. Since 2007, the winning team of the Heisman trophy has finished with an average ranking of 16.25 in the SCOUT Team Rankings. The year before they win, it is even lower at 19.50. The big jump comes in the first year after a Heisman win, were the ranking improves to 10.63. In year two, it is 12 and in year three it is 10.43.
Baylor had the largest jump, finishing, averaging a ranking of over 50 in the 3-years before their Heisman win to an average of 27.40 afterwards. Alabama saw the true rise of their recruiting power after Mark Ingrams' win in 2009, as they have risen up an average of 10 spots. Texas A&M saw a rise of 9-spots since Johnny Manziel won his Heisman in 2012.
Of course, with better recruits you have to develop and keep them. The Texas A&M Aggies are an example of what not to do there, as they gained accolades on the recruiting trail, especially at the quarterback position, but have seen transfers and a lack of development destory their depth chart. Here is a list of the top-tier quarterback recruits that the Aggies have had on campus, starting with the 2012 recruiting class.
2012 - Matt Davis - 4-star recruit. #6 ranked QB in the nation
2013 - Kenny Hill - 4-star recruit. #16 ranked QB in the nation
2014 - Kyle Allen - 5-star recruit. #1 ranked QB in the nation
2015 - Kyler Murray - 5-star recruit. #4 ranked QB in the nation
All four of those players will finish their college career away from Texas A&M. Daivs transferred to Junior College, and then to SMU after Manziel became Johnny Football. Hill started after Manziel left for the NFL, but lost his startin job and transferred to TCU. Allen and Murray both made national news this winter as they both declared their intentions to leave College Station, with Allen going go Houston and Murray going to Oklahoma.
A single Heisman win can turn a program's fortunes around on the recruiting trail, which almost always improves performance on the field. It is a cyclical relationship, better performance begets better recruits, which results in even better performance. Well, as long as you take care of your coach.
The 2007 Florida Gators are an example of what NOT to do in that case. Urban Meyer helped Tim Tebow and the Gators reach elite status, on the field with a 2006 national championship. Tebow became the starter in 2007, and won the Heisman trophy. Three years later, Urban was exhausted and leading a team that was falling apart from the inside. He would step away from the Gators briefly in 2009, and then for good after the 2010 season. Just three years later, the Gators would fall to 4-8, their first losing season since 1979.
Auburn is another example, as 2010 saw the magical Cam Newton run led by Gene Chizik. Two years later, and following a disastorous 3-9 campaign, Chizik would be fired, replaced by Gus Malzahn who would bring the program to the national title game in 2013. Every other program has kept their coach in place.
With more success comes more money, and that usually means investments back into the football program. Baylor timed their Heisman trophy perfectly, as they announced their intentions to build a new stadium for the 2014 season. McLane Stadium was the result, built on the banks of the Brazos River.
However, there is one big thing that you should never do after winning a Heisman Trophy.
Don't Abolish Your Football Program!
The winner of the first Heisman Trophy, Jay Berwanger, played at the University of Chicago, in 1935. By 1939, the Maroons had abolished their football program, only to bring it back as a Division III team in 1973.
In the end, winning the Heisman Trophy is an outstanding accomplishment that the individual player will be able to carry around for the rest of their lifetime. It is up to the University to cash in on this gift from the football gods and to carry that legacy towards elevating the program to a higher level.