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Charting the Revenues and Profits of College Athletics

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The USA Today put out its annual report on the financials of college athletics, this time on the 2010-11 athletic year. I've assembled some of the data into chart form here. As always with these things, only data on public universities is available.

The horizontal axis is revenue. The midpoint is the median revenue for the top 51 revenue producers and is noted on the chart. Why 51? Because Ole Miss ended up No. 51 and I wanted to capture all 11 public SEC schools. The vertical axis is profits, which is revenue minus expenses and subsidies. Here's how the USAT defines subsidies:

The sum of students fees, direct and indirect institutional support and state money. The NCAA and others consider such funds "allocated" or everything not generated by the department's athletics functions.

Most (if not all) profitable athletic departments pay back any subsidies they receive, but most athletic departments aren't profitable without them. That's why I pull them out of the profit figures. I want to see which programs can function profitably on their own.

This chart includes all available BCS conference schools, plus a couple notable others. Click it to make it bigger. The only logos that are mostly obscured are Nebraska, which is below South Carolina and Kentucky, and UCLA, which is below Missouri and Virginia Tech. Also, Indiana is under Washington.


Here are my observations.

  • Only 22 programs were profitable in 2010-11 net of subsidies. Nine of them were in the SEC, with only Auburn (loss of $822,383) and Ole Miss (loss of $1,589,324) taking hits. Seven were in the Big Ten, five were in the Big 12, and one (Oregon, thanks Phil Knight!) was in the Pac-10. Not a single ACC or Big East program was above water without subsidies.
  • Texas was the revenue champ by far, bringing in roughly $18.5 million more than second place Ohio State. The Longhorns spent more than the Buckeyes brought in and still turned the second largest profit in the country. Texas was $3.1 million short of doubling the median revenue for the top 51 public schools. Keep in mind this is for 2010-11, so it's before ESPN guaranteed the school $15 million per year for the Longhorn Network (half of which goes to academics for the first five years).
  • Kansas State was the most profitable program overall despite being below the top-51 median for revenue. LSU was most profitable in the SEC, Penn State in the Big Ten, and again, Oregon was the only Pac-10 school to turn a profit.
  • Florida State was almost $16 million in the hole for that year. No wonder some at the school are thinking about switching conferences to make more money. If you look at true revenue, which is revenue minus subsidies, FSU is 26th among public schools ($71 million) near institutions such as Indiana, Minnesota, Kansas, and Illinois. It's far behind its main recruiting rivals Alabama ($119.2M), Florida ($119.1M), Auburn ($99.6M), and Georgia ($89.1M). Clemson, FSU's rumored traveling partner to the Big 12, is even more behind in 37th place with $56.1 million in true revenue.
  • UNLV was the only non-BCS school to finish in the top 51 public schools for revenue, but it did so largely thanks to a $32.2 million subsidy. It was the least profitable program on the chart and, I'd bet, in the country.
  • Boise State was down over $10,000,000 for that year, it's last of playing football in the WAC. Its move to the Mountain West was expected to boost revenue by less than $1 million per year. There's your reason why the school is chasing TV money with the Big East despite how little sense it makes for a team in Idaho to be in a conference with "East" in its name.
  • Army was profitable before its subsidy of of $11.76 million, and Air Force was barely in the black before its $25.3 million subsidy. Your tax dollars at work, partially.
  • Once you get past a certain point, roughly Iowa State's $48.6 million, the revenue figures start to become meaningless. The variations between schools largely are due to subsidies rather than organic athletic department revenue. For instance, Delaware has the highest revenue of I-AA schools at $36 million, but $28.5 million of that consisted of subsidies. The Blue Hens had only $7.5 million of true revenue. Fresno State is listed below Delaware on the list with $30.2 million in revenue, but $21.8 million of that was true revenue.


Here's a good article explaining some of the vagaries involved with the way these subsidies are accounted for. In short, it almost requires being a CPA to sort out what precisely direct and indirect school support actually means. Take this data as a general guideline only. Until reporting across all schools is standardize (and more thorough), it'll be impossible to get a completely accurate comparison.