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Money makes the NCAA go around

Spoiler alert. If you are the owner of a Championship Footie Team (here I mean soccer) look away now. This will only end in tears.

The US Department for Education (DoE) has recently published 2016  revenue figures for College Athletic programmes.

During the 2016 season,  the University of Tennessee earned $110.7m from its football programme alone. Let’s just dwell on that for a moment. This doesn’t include donations and excludes licensing and rights fees. The football programme contributed over $110m to the University’s coffers.

By comparison, in 2016 the turnover of Fulham Football Club was £36m and Huddersfield Town was £11.3m (source: Insider Media).

Of course this isn’t a new phenomenon. For years, if not decades College Athletics programmes have been significant contributors to the running of their respective universities. In fact, for many if not for the Athletics programmes then the university would run at a loss, meaning significant downsizing or vastly inflated tuition fees.

Some teams elect not to disclose their annual revenue making direct comparisons nationwide difficult. It is believed that the University of Texas is the wealthiest Athletics Department in the US, with the DoE stating that the 3 year average for UoT Athletics in general (including Football, Baseball and Basketball – both men and women’s) was $120.5m. And this number again excluded licensing and rights fees.

If you follow the College game at all then you know the pressure every Texas head coach finds themselves under. While all forms of football from Friday Night lights to College to NFL is under a scrutiny, perhaps not felt elsewhere in the States the head coach at the UoT Longhorns is arguably under the toughest analysis.

Charlie Strong (now at U of South Florida) found this out on day one in Austin when he didn’t immediately hit it off with the Texas High School Football coaches. While not the major contributor to his downfall, this didn’t help his cause when results went south. But I digress. In a state where a High School football team spends nearly $30m on its stadium, money talks. An underperforming UoT means the number one revenue school is underperforming and in danger of being knocked off the number one perch. When this happens the coach must go. Good luck Tom Herman.

It is no surprise that the power house conference of College ball, the SEC ranks heavily amongst the top revenue generating schools, although not exclusively.

Aside from the above mentioned Tennessee, football is a significant contributor to the coffers of Alabama ($110m), Georgia ($93m), Auburn ($92m), LSU ($86m) and Florida ($83m).

Outside of the SEC, the cash is rolling in at Michigan ($90m), Ohio State ($79m) and Penn State ($77m).

Of course, the debate over paying players continues. With schools earning hundreds of millions of dollars (excl royalties) a percentage of which comes from the sales of jerseys, often for years beyond the time the player has left school, there is sympathy for payments to be made to players. The NCCA has moved slightly on this topic with the authorisation of a stipend, but this continues to fall well short of any kind of living allowance. There are numerous examples of football players having two jobs while training for what is effectively a full time professional sport AND trying to maintain grades which will not only provide the player with a degree (for life) but allow them to continue to play football at school. Bear in mind that falling grades will mean revocation of any scholarship and  expulsion from the team.

So while the argument against a full blown professional contract for players is strong, is there  scope for the payment of a living allowance? Of course this opens up a whole can of worms as to what exactly a “living allowance” might be. One assumes the living allowance at the University of Southern Cal in Los Angeles is quite different to that in Fargo, North Dakota.

Those against argue that players are receiving full blown scholarships for degrees that they would not normally be eligible for. This is not exclusively a financial argument as many schools such as Alabama come under increasing criticism as to the academic ability of their sports teams compared to say a Stanford. Stanford argue they produce a high academic standard whilst having a competitive team. Alabama is accused of having only one of these qualities.

But doesn’t this just propel the circular argument that schools need the money to finance the college in its entirety without which downsizing or higher tuition fees would be required?  Not entirely. The accusation levied at the larger SEC schools is that this isn’t quite the case with the likes of Alabama investing heavily back into the athletics department. Upon winning the National Championship, Nick Sabah announced a $2m refit of the Tide’s recruiting lounge. Yes, a lounge where prospective new recruits are taken to be sold on the merits of the University. Nor am I ignoring that Head Coach Saban earns $12m per year. Which for the attentive amongst you is double what some NFL coaches earn in a season.

And what of that grand old lady of the NCAA, Notre Dame? The most prominent independent school which is not attached to a division or conference picks its own schedule and has its own TV channel and retains all its broadcasting rights, The Fighting Irish are cagey when publishing statistics but the DoE shows Notre Dame’s football programme contibuted $88m during 2016. We can safely predict that including donations and licensing fees, it will take the total well in excess of $100m. Few in South Bend are having beans on toast for their tea, except perhaps the players. 

While college football is full of charm, eccentricities, tradition and the downright unusual, like every other sport it is fuelled by stadiums full of unrealistic fans, Coaches under huge pressure and the absolute need to win. If you ever doubted it, college ball is big big business. 

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