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:
And now, the annual discussion of why "subsidy" doesn't mean the same thing for everyone and can be very misleading. http://t.co/gSS5hsfKSz— David Wunderlich (@Year2) June 5, 2014
@SEC_Logo Every school does its accounting differently. Analyzing anything more than totals with this database is treacherous.— David Wunderlich (@Year2) June 5, 2014
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|
|33||Mississippi Valley State||-$2,821,442|
|44||North Carolina Asheville||-$4,489,075|
|57||Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne||-$5,772,240|
|60||Southern Illinois Edwardsville||-$6,183,872|
|62||South Carolina Upstate||-$6,391,477|
|67||South Carolina State||-$6,812,048|
|69||North Carolina Central||-$6,858,586|
|77||Southeast Missouri State||-$7,295,726|
|79||South Dakota State||-$7,616,159|
|80||North Dakota State||-$7,647,661|
|86||Texas A&M-Corpus Christi||-$7,978,620|
|87||Sam Houston State||-$8,095,878|
|92||North Carolina Wilmington||-$8,297,683|
|95||Prairie View A&M||-$8,340,137|
|100||Florida Gulf Coast||-$8,472,632|
|106||North Carolina A&T||-$9,070,780|
|122||New Jersey Tech||-$9,646,843|
|133||Long Beach State||-$10,559,557|
|143||Stephen F. Austin||-$11,311,448|
|147||East Tennessee State||-$11,576,190|
|152||William & Mary||-$11,930,732|
|157||Central Conn State||-$12,272,244|
|161||North Carolina Greensboro||-$12,630,338|
|171||College of Charleston||-$13,630,748|
|188||San Jose State||-$16,159,454|
|200||New Mexico State||-$18,053,732|
|202||North Carolina Charlotte||-$18,108,630|
|213||Middle Tennessee State||-$20,662,125|
|215||San Diego State||-$21,217,220|