Many top-tier Div. I football programs fund the bulk of their entire university athletic departments, or at least support athletic programs at their schools that cannot or would not be able to support themselves otherwise. They often bring a significant amount of business to the towns that host their games as well. The impact is especially great in smaller cities.
In 2013, the University of Nebraska paid $2.1 million to the University of Southern Mississippi to move their match-up from Hattiesburg to Lincoln. This move increased the Huskers game day revenue by 14%, and brought an estimated $8 million to the local economy (forbes.com, December 2012). While Southern Mississippi reaps the benefits of the venue change, the local economy in Hattiesburg will not see any of the influx of revenue that it would have enjoyed from visiting Husker fans.
West Virginia paid $20 million to leave the Big East (a conference made up mostly of east coast teams, as the name would suggest) and join the Big-12 (teams based primarily across the central states), which had just secured a lucrative media contract with ESPN and Fox, to the tune of $2.6 billion. While television deals are a boon to conferences, schools individual earnings remain the driving force behind their overall financial success.
Teams are willing to eschew decades of tradition to enhance their economic futures. The opportunity for increased revenue and brand growth outweighed the decades of economic ties between teams and communities that benefited mutually from long-standing, yearly rivalry match-ups.
These efforts to expand brand awareness, whether through marketing themselves to recruits in new territories by moving to a more prestigious athletic conference, or expanding their fan base by endeavoring into new territories, shows that teams are willing to embrace non-traditional methods of evolving their business models in an effort to ensure continued fiscal success in the years to come.