Big-time college football programs may have been linked recently to scandals involving illicit payments to players (Ohio State), academic improprieties (North Carolina) and child sexual abuse (Penn State), but that has not slowed a rush to join the fraternity. The institutions chasing a new football status do so with baby steps and varied circumstances, but the common journey has a visionary end — some would call it illusionary — and it is a wonderland of television riches, national exposure and ecstatic alumni donating money by the bushel.
“The reality is that football schools who move up a division almost always lose even more money,” said Daniel Fulks, an accounting professor at Transylvania University who has spent the last 15 years as a research consultant for the N.C.A.A. “There’s not much defense of the economics in the short term or the long term. There are arguments for countervailing, intangible benefits — more national exposure, more admission applications,