College athletic departments aren't necessarily as broke as you think

Subtracting subsidies, Ohio State's athletic department is the most profitable in the country. But subsidies are tricky. - Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Most college sports programs take a whole lot of subsidy money from their public university systems. But "subsidy" is a complicated word.

USA Today released its essential annual college athletic department revenue breakdown this week, listing the money coming in and going out for every NCAA Division I public school (the list cannot include private schools, such as Notre Dame, USC, Duke, Stanford, and the Ivy League) in 2013.

Similar to previous years, Texas brought in the biggest revenue haul -- this time, more than $165 million.

Also similar to previous years, almost every athletic department in the country is listed as having taken subsidy money from elsewhere in order to remain afloat. Only seven of the 230 listed public schools are shown as having taken no subsidy money in 2013 (LSU, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Purdue, Texas), and only four others are listed below $1 million (Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Texas A&M).

On the high end, Rutgers clocks in just a few dollars shy of $47 million in subsidies. The budgets for 40 schools are at least 80 percent subsidy. Only 20 would be listed as turning profits, if we subtracted both expenses and subsidies from revenues (see below).

That's a lot of money. That's a lot of money being spent on sports. And that's a lot of public money being spent on sports that isn't resulting in an apparent profit. However:

At Tennessee, for example, which is listed as taking more than $12 million in 2013 subsidies despite having a 102,000-seat football stadium and an SEC television contract, the accounting makes the Vols look less sustainable than similar schools:

According to a report in Tuesday's USA Today, the University of Tennessee athletic department derived 12 percent ($13.552 million) of its revenue from subsidies. That's a misleading figure, though, UT officials say, as the majority of it is money that has never actually existed.

Example: Thompson-Boling Arena is one year older, therefore it is worth [$8.36 million] less than it was the previous year.

That $8.36 million counted as a "Depreciation" line item in the 2011 subsidy report. According to GoVolsXtra's report, Tennessee only took about $1 million of what most of us would actually think of as subsidies -- in this case, student fees. The athletic department also sent $6.84 million in revenue to the school itself, so if we were to limit the subsidies category to student fees, then the University of Tennessee would've made about $5.8 million off of its athletic department in 2011.

Oregon's athletic department claims self-sufficiency, despite its books looking different than those listed by USA Today as including no subsidies. At Florida, what appeared to a less-informed outsider to be a sports-over-academics budget decision actually involved two completely different budgets. Even within a single conference, accounting methods are so varied that comparing any single financial item is a challenge.

Those are four examples, but they show how many variables can go into a word like "subsidies." Many of the schools listed in the red below could've turned a profit if things had been accounted differently.

Why do schools track financials in so many different ways? For one thing: accountants. Who knows how they work? For another, if there's one thing always in question in college sports, it's the money:

Athletic departments are trying to walk a rhetorical tightrope. They want to hide their profits to make it easier to keep them away from other would-be claimants. They also want to avoid looking so poor that other stakeholders within academia use sports' apparent poverty to strip them of power. Rhetoric that turns a price into a cost, and a transfer of profit into a loss of money, helps play a role in confusing things enough that the moment in the magic trick where the profit is moved from one pocket to the other gets obscured.

Many school budgets are certainly in bad shape (no amount of shell-sliding will make things look good at Rutgers, which hopes to break even in 2022 thanks to its golden Big Ten life raft). But we can't just look at a list of numbers capped by the word "subsidy" and assume that all of college sports is unsustainable, that schools can't afford to better compensate players without making hard cuts, or that the whole thing is a bubble about to burst. Those things are true for many schools, of course, but due to more than just the subsidy wells eventually drying up.

Using USA Today's numbers, here are Division I public school athletic departments ranked by revenue, minus expenses and everything included in "subsidies."

Athletic department Revenue minus subsidies minus expenses
1 Ohio State $23,612,978
2 Alabama $21,377,437
3 Oklahoma $21,358,108
4 Texas $18,883,901
5 Florida $18,593,745
6 Oregon $17,930,985
7 Michigan $12,239,982
8 LSU $12,145,380
9 Kansas $10,523,506
10 Kansas State $8,645,452
11 Texas A&M $8,252,345
12 Arkansas $5,611,468
13 Washington $5,526,960
14 Nebraska $5,249,732
15 Missouri $4,515,874
16 Texas Tech $2,610,828
17 Michigan State $2,426,782
18 Mississippi State $2,401,801
19 Indiana $1,501,254
20 Kentucky $1,450,017
21 West Virginia -$256,382
22 Iowa -$494,287
23 South Carolina -$1,150,687
24 Florida State -$1,250,052
25 Iowa State -$1,701,229
26 Mississippi -$1,757,355
27 Clemson -$1,786,346
28 Army -$1,809,124
29 Georgia -$2,021,692
30 NC State -$2,187,085
31 Purdue -$2,248,610
32 UCLA -$2,627,405
33 Mississippi Valley State -$2,821,442
34 Coppin State -$2,841,826
35 Illinois -$2,854,991
36 New Orleans -$2,958,136
37 California -$3,206,245
38 Southern -$3,667,227
39 Jackson State -$3,759,290
40 Auburn -$3,761,388
41 Nicholls State -$4,215,256
42 Louisiana-Monroe -$4,310,393
43 Virginia Tech -$4,440,171
44 North Carolina Asheville -$4,489,075
45 Alcorn State -$4,618,066
46 Maryland-Eastern Shore -$4,706,375
47 Savannah State -$4,762,591
48 Wisconsin-Green Bay -$4,780,597
49 VMI -$4,806,916
50 McNeese State -$5,095,089
51 Grambling State -$5,204,238
52 Chicago State -$5,275,634
53 Wisconsin -$5,377,457
54 Alabama A&M -$5,396,160
55 Arkansas-Pine Bluff -$5,728,503
56 Arkansas-Little Rock -$5,760,584
57 Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne -$5,772,240
58 Penn State -$5,985,736
59 Florida A&M -$6,175,320
60 Southern Illinois Edwardsville -$6,183,872
61 Minnesota -$6,242,029
62 South Carolina Upstate -$6,391,477
63 Indiana-Purdue Indianapolis -$6,412,763
64 Austin Peay -$6,528,707
65 Southeastern Louisiana -$6,532,936
66 California State-Bakersfield -$6,586,899
67 South Carolina State -$6,812,048
68 Tennessee-Martin -$6,849,522
69 North Carolina Central -$6,858,586
70 Wichita State -$7,010,137
71 Texas-Pan American -$7,018,877
72 Arizona -$7,069,123
73 Louisville -$7,104,013
74 North Florida -$7,160,650
75 Idaho State -$7,290,567
76 South Dakota -$7,293,971
77 Southeast Missouri State -$7,295,726
78 Central Arkansas -$7,305,725
79 South Dakota State -$7,616,159
80 North Dakota State -$7,647,661
81 Southern Utah -$7,803,588
82 Western Carolina -$7,814,834
83 Montana -$7,818,146
84 Northern Iowa -$7,859,254
85 Nebraska-Omaha -$7,931,972
86 Texas A&M-Corpus Christi -$7,978,620
87 Sam Houston State -$8,095,878
88 Weber State -$8,139,326
89 Longwood -$8,166,152
90 Northwestern State -$8,187,388
91 Louisiana-Lafayette -$8,218,018
92 North Carolina Wilmington -$8,297,683
93 Eastern Washington -$8,306,316
94 Georgia Southern -$8,320,670
95 Prairie View A&M -$8,340,137
96 Northern Colorado -$8,426,022
97 Wright State -$8,444,369
98 Jacksonville State -$8,447,296
99 Missouri State -$8,451,702
100 Florida Gulf Coast -$8,472,632
101 Morgan State -$8,556,966
102 Utah Valley -$8,566,576
103 Morehead State -$8,680,040
104 California State-Fullerton -$8,857,839
105 Georgia Tech -$8,997,538
106 North Carolina A&T -$9,070,780
107 Louisiana Tech -$9,088,575
108 Texas Southern -$9,096,448
109 North Carolina -$9,098,018
110 Citadel -$9,113,153
111 Northern Kentucky -$9,304,768
112 Arkansas State -$9,323,491
113 Indiana State -$9,335,189
114 Eastern Kentucky -$9,378,024
115 Tennessee Tech -$9,393,729
116 Idaho -$9,421,663
117 Southern Mississippi -$9,425,414
118 Western Illinois -$9,453,243
119 Northern Arizona -$9,499,913
120 Tennessee State -$9,517,319
121 Cleveland State -$9,624,278
122 New Jersey Tech -$9,646,843
123 Eastern Illinois -$9,665,263
124 California State-Northridge -$9,895,143
125 Portland State -$9,939,578
126 Youngstown State -$9,985,370
127 Arizona State -$10,046,641
128 Radford -$10,191,243
129 Oklahoma State -$10,223,965
130 Oakland -$10,334,608
131 Winthrop -$10,426,003
132 Montana State -$10,441,031
133 Long Beach State -$10,559,557
134 Murray State -$10,664,851
135 Missouri-Kansas City -$10,773,900
136 Delaware State -$10,773,936
137 North Dakota -$10,892,865
138 Wisconsin-Milwaukee -$10,966,929
139 Oregon State -$10,987,336
140 Illinois-Chicago -$11,026,500
141 Tennessee-Chattanooga -$11,050,995
142 Tennessee -$11,123,471
143 Stephen F. Austin -$11,311,448
144 Bowling Green -$11,406,851
145 Washington State -$11,450,578
146 Nevada -$11,547,218
147 East Tennessee State -$11,576,190
148 Binghamton -$11,605,933
149 Boise State -$11,622,707
150 Norfolk State -$11,703,827
151 Toledo -$11,749,738
152 William & Mary -$11,930,732
153 Appalachian State -$11,971,488
154 Kennesaw State -$12,137,460
155 Lamar -$12,140,179
156 Alabama State -$12,174,670
157 Central Conn State -$12,272,244
158 Texas-Arlington -$12,290,881
159 Fresno State -$12,355,444
160 California-Irvine -$12,381,125
161 North Carolina Greensboro -$12,630,338
162 Maine -$12,741,465
163 Troy -$12,857,258
164 Utah -$12,904,369
165 Virginia -$12,918,432
166 Illinois State -$12,974,845
167 Vermont -$13,267,666
168 California-Santa Barbara -$13,349,934
169 Maryland-Baltimore Cty -$13,515,738
170 Albany -$13,549,734
171 College of Charleston -$13,630,748
172 Florida Atlantic -$14,019,469
173 California-Riverside -$14,246,709
174 Utah State -$14,312,808
175 UTEP -$14,765,357
176 Sacramento State -$14,992,070
177 Colorado -$15,090,588
178 Maryland -$15,122,744
179 Marshall -$15,212,457
180 South Alabama -$15,239,662
181 California Polytechnic -$15,437,378
182 UTSA -$15,642,562
183 East Carolina -$15,803,778
184 Towson -$15,903,026
185 Wyoming -$15,960,305
186 Southern Illinois -$15,981,723
187 New Mexico -$16,043,539
188 San Jose State -$16,159,454
189 Western Kentucky -$16,415,010
190 Northern Illinois -$16,607,213
191 Rhode Island -$17,173,759
192 USF -$17,250,048
193 Ball State -$17,357,695
194 UAB -$17,455,914
195 Virginia Commonwealth -$17,458,920
196 Colorado State -$17,690,944
197 North Texas -$17,754,460
198 New Hampshire -$17,802,436
199 Ohio -$17,823,842
200 New Mexico State -$18,053,732
201 Central Michigan -$18,079,704
202 North Carolina Charlotte -$18,108,630
203 Hawaii -$18,195,536
204 Coastal Carolina -$18,222,096
205 George Mason -$18,566,733
206 UConn -$18,945,612
207 Texas State -$18,959,475
208 Memphis -$19,061,257
209 Cincinnati -$19,379,431
210 Miami (Ohio) -$19,655,299
211 Stony Brook -$19,805,938
212 Florida International -$19,912,926
213 Middle Tennessee State -$20,662,125
214 Kent State -$21,117,955
215 San Diego State -$21,217,220
216 Akron -$21,223,059
217 Western Michigan -$21,266,522
218 Buffalo -$22,086,522
219 Eastern Michigan -$22,364,722
220 California-Davis -$22,826,545
221 Georgia State -$23,142,180
222 UCF -$23,616,771
223 UMass -$25,025,634
224 Old Dominion -$25,721,330
225 Air Force -$25,994,893
226 Delaware -$26,117,411
227 Houston -$26,753,621
228 James Madison -$28,428,737
229 UNLV -$35,322,276
230 Rutgers -$46,996,697

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