BY Art Thiel 06:08PM 04/18/2016

Despite TV money, Huskies also running deficit

Even with big increases in TV rights fees, most NCAA Power Five conference members are spending more than they have, including UW and WSU. Will the bubble burst?

Filling Husky Stadium would help, but TV revenues are leaving shortfalls across the conference. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Despite the heralded revenues anticipated from the Pac-12 Networks, athletics departments of four of the 10 public schools in the conference operated at a deficit in 2015, including the University of Washington. UW had revenues of $103.6 million and expenses of $104.4 million. But the deficit was small compared to the $13.3 million reported recently by Washington State athletics director Bill Moos.

WSU’s deficit led the conference, followed by Cal (minus $8.4 million, Oregon State (minus $7.7 million) and UW (minus $800,000). UCLA broke even. Arizona had the biggest surplus at $6.1 million, followed by Utah ($3.7 million), Colorado ($2.7 million) and Oregon ($1.8 million).

USA Today Sports reported Monday its analysis of financial information that 281 public schools annually provide the NCAA. The Pac-12′s two private schools, Stanford and USC, did not offer data.

For the 50 public schools in the Power Five conferences (Pac-12, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12 and SEC), revenues rose by $304 million in 2015. But spending rose by $332 million from the year before. At the 178 public schools in Division I conferences outside the Power Five conferences, revenue increased by $199 million, but spending rose by $218 million.

The entire list is here. Also included is the amount of subsidy the athletics departments get from the schools’ general funds. WSU’s $6.1 million subsidy is 11.3 percent of the athletics budget; UW’s subsidy of $3.9 million is 3.8 percent.

USA Today’s story posited that spending more than athletics make creates a dangerous “bubble,” particularly since the building boom prompted by large increases in TV rights fees over the last five years saddled departments with long-term debt. The data showed that less two dozen schools can cover all their athletics expenses without asking for help from each school’s general fund.

“There are big-time things leading it to pop,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College and author of Unpaid Professionals: Commercialization and Conflict in Big-Time College Sports. “It’s an unstable situation.”

NCAA president Mark Emmert, the former UW president, unsurprisingly managed to put a positive spin on the issue of subsidy.

“A very small number of the 1,100 (NCAA members) have a positive cash flow on college sports, so those schools are making a decision that having a successful athletic program is valuable to them, despite the fact they have to subsidize it with institutional money,” Emmert says. “The same thing is true for a lot of academic programs. So every school has to sit down and say, ‘What is this worth to us?’ ”

The Pac-12 is in a different TV situation than the other conferences. Even though it’s estimated that about 12 million subscribe to P12Nets, it doesn’t have the biggest distributor in the West — DirecTV. The nation’s No.1 satellite carrier has consistently refused to carry P12Nets, saying it’s overpriced for the quality provided.

Perhaps up to 90 percent of the televised events are non-revenue sports that have small audiences, according to DirecTV. The college football and men’s basketball schedules are what ESPN and Fox pay rights fees for. The networks are not interested in the rest of the content, which it believes amounts to infomercials for the conference and its schools.

The conference is unwilling to lower its price, because all the cable carriers that have P12Nets would demand similar concessions on their deals.

So, according to reporting from the Mercury News’s Jon Wilner, each school in the Pac-12 receives a smaller annual share, about $25 million per, than the schools in the other Power Five conferences from the TV deals, led by the $31.2 million for each school in the SEC.

The P12Nets deal, put together by Commissioner Larry Scott and hailed as a panacea for the conference that was usually last in TV revenues compared to the other big conferences, remains last.

The annual shortfalls often must be made up by campus administrators being stretched to fund basics like faculty salaries.

So if it’s true nationally that athletics departments’ financial picture is a bubble, a bursting is going to have long-term impacts beyond merely the citadels of jockdom.

By the way, the school with the biggest budget ($192 million revs, $108 million in expenses) in the NCAA? Texas A&M, where former UW athletics director Scott Woodward now works. Now you know why he moved.


  • Jamo57

    Are you insinuating that Scott Woodward thinks A&M is a “have” and the UW is a “have not”, Art?

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    • Jeff Shope

      Sadly yes that is exactly the case. Until you see what it’s like at an SEC game you don’t know what a real game day is like. I’m a life long Husky fan but after living down here and working at LSU. The two conferences might as well be on different planets. And trust me Woodward knows that as well as anyone. I’m sure he got sick of fighting all the liberal tools in Seattle to get stadium done even though it cost no tax dollars.

      • art thiel

        Well, we certainly know that the SEC does everything right, especially in terms of ethics, values and non-football priorities.

    • Jeff Shope

      For example in what was a down year for LSU last year the athletic dept wrote a check for ten million to the school while expanding the stadium with millions left over. And most of the SEC schools are like that.

    • art thiel

      Looking at the numbers, what do you think?

  • jafabian

    Would have been interesting to see where Stanford is in this. They’re one of the top athletic programs in the nation.

    • art thiel

      Maybe Stanford endows chair positions, like Phil Knight Chair at Left Guard. I know they have PE as a major, which explains a lot of the football success.

  • Count to 10

    Can you imagine what these financial results will look like if/when they start paying players? I’m a huge fan of college sports but, at some point, sanity will have to take over. There is a definite argument to be made that having an athletic department enhances the student experience and draws students to the university but schools will soon need to find that line of where the cost to subsidize those programs begins to undermine the core purpose of the university. Also, with the debt on all the new facilities, if the current sports bubble bursts, the longer term impact could be quite devastating to a number of schools and programs.

    • art thiel

      See answer above

  • coug73

    Professional sports should pay colleges royalties for taking college kids into their organizations. The current college farm team concept isn’t equitable. Colleges spend the money on development and the Pros harvest the best.

    • rosetta_stoned

      But you’re not taking into account the thousands of student athletes in the non-revenue sports who receive a top-flight education – free – and move on to professional careers outside of sports.

      • art thiel

        The answer is one I’ve advocated for years: Fully professionalize football and men’s basketball, and make the teams pay to rent the mascot, colors and stadiums in an amount sufficient to sustain the non-rev sports. If they say they can’t afford it, put a surtax on tickets/rights fees dedicated to make up the difference between the rent and the costs.


        • 1coolguy

          And what do you say to the DI schools that are not in the top, say, 50 BB or FB schools? The pros wouldn’t support schools that don’t turn out pros and how many schools would a pro team support? Then there are the DII schools, etc.

        • MrPrimeMinister

          Completely level-headed and reasonable approach recognizing the realities of today’s college sports age–billion $$ tv deals, million $$ staff salaries. A win-win for the boosters–they can still wear the team colors and tailgate on Saturday. And no pretense about the athletes “hitting the books” or wasting time on “studying.” Everyone knows what they are there for.

        • SeaRaays

          Take the people that run the programs making millions off the students and tax payers backs. It would be nice while also cutting at least half the schools off the list of having programs.

  • Guy K. Browne

    Just to be clear, the University of Washington spent $800,000 from their budget to subsidize: swimming, soccer, rowing, track & field, softball, baseball, volleyball, gymnastics, etc? That doesn’t seem an unreasonable amount for an institution that size. Sports and athletics are supported by public school systems throughout North America as an integral part of the educational experience. That said, there ought to be a means of remuneration for the athletes who dedicate the time and effort to compete, surely beyond whatever studying is being done and the commitments for practice/travel/game day, a typical university student job is not feasible.

    • 1coolguy

      Paying athletes doesn’t make any sense, and not just because that would ADD to the losses or contribute to losses. The reason these athletes turn out for sports is for the love of the competition – simply because 2-3 basketball players and maybe 5 football players MAY go pro, that should not cloud the reason the rest of the what, 700+ athletes turn out @ UW.
      My son rowed and believe me, he didn’t do it for the money or prospect of being a pro. It was because he wanted to compete and loved rowing.. At the same time, his grades did well. He is clearly representative of the 95%+ athletes that compete in college sports.

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      • SeaRaays

        Who would pay to watch rowing? Some athletes you are correct that get subsidized by tax payers through free education and room at a public school. Men BB and FB is a different story which also requires more time from the athletes during the season.