Playing for Dollars

The big game is big business – for some schools.



illustration by Dreamstime

At last. It seems like forever since the college football season ended in January. Seven agonizing months later, the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll is out, and national champ Alabama is on top.

Alabama is also the biggest spender in the Top 10, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) on spending in college athletics (for the 2011-12 academic year). The Crimson Tide spent almost $37 million on football and earned $82 million. Not bad, but not best either. The University of Texas, which didn’t make the preseason Top 10, had revenue of $103,813,684, while Michigan had $85,209,247. Notre Dame, which is ranked 11th and lost to Alabama in the 2013 national championship game, earned $68,986,659 and is a football independent.

Most bang for the buck? That would be Georgia and Florida, each with more than $3 in revenue for every $1 spent. Most likely to improve this season? That would be Texas A&M, the newest member of the Southeastern Conference, which earned a paltry $44 million last year. That is assuming that star quarterback Johnny Manziel avoids a suspension or serious injury.

Here’s the Top 10, with expenses and revenues in parentheses:

1.     Alabama ($36,918,963 / $81,993,762)
2.     Ohio State ($34,026,871 / $58,112,270)
3.     Oregon ($20,240,213 / $51,921,731)
4.     Stanford ($18,738,731 / $25,564,646)
5.     Georgia ($22,710,140 / $74,989,418)
6.     Texas A&M ($17,929,882 / $44,420,762)
7.     South Carolina ($22,063,216 / $48,065,096)
8.     Clemson ($23,652,472 / $39,207,780)
9.     Louisville ($18,769,539 / $23,756,955)
10.    Florida ($23,045,846 / $74,117,435)

Not surprisingly, the gap between the elites and the struggling teams in Division 1-A such as Memphis is huge. The big powers spend two or three times as much and make tens of millions of dollars from donors, seat licenses, merchandise, ticket sales, and television.

In football, Duke, Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida made money. Connecticut and Central Florida lost money, and the rest, like Memphis, reported breaking even or virtually even.

Memphis reported football expenses of $12,983,962, balancing out revenue of $12,983,962. (Memphis reported spending and earning $7.5 million on men’s basketball.) The Tigers open the season on September 7th at home against Duke. The schedule includes four teams that won a combined 12 national championships — in basketball.

In football, Duke, Cincinnati, Louisville, and South Florida made money. Connecticut and Central Florida lost money, and the rest, like Memphis, reported breaking even or virtually even.

Wren Baker, deputy athletic director at Memphis, says the disclosure process is evolving and “highly inconsistent.” The DOE told some but not all schools that their revenues and expenses must even out, hence the discrepancies. He said the expense column is more likely to be accurate than revenues, which may or may not include major fundraising campaigns.

The Tigers’ Opponents:

Duke: $20,480,154 / $25,373,768 (Duke spent $16 million and earned $25.6 million on basketball.)
Middle Tennessee: $7,629,932 / $7,629,932
Arkansas State: $4,341,626 / $4,341,626 (Under former coach Hugh Freeze, Tigers’ nemesis did more with less.)
Central Florida: $13,636,867 / $12,211,638
Houston: $8,250,249 / $8,250,249 (An also-ran and relatively small spender in a big wealthy market in Texas.)
SMU: $13,163,600 / $13,163,599 (That’s not a typo; the Mustangs lost a buck.)
Cincinnati: $12,594,857 / $15,322,430
Tennessee-Martin: $2,599,061 / $2,699,094 (Division 1-AA school.)
South Florida: $12,609,350 / $16,832,236 (Made $4 million in the competitive Florida market.)
Louisville: $18,769,539 / $23,756,955 (Not bad, but men’s basketball made $42.4 million on $15.4 million spending.)
Temple: $16,961,995 / $16,961,995
Connecticut: $14,445,521 / $12,910,583

 

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