How Big is the Big Ten Financially?

I recently wrote about finances in the SEC, specifically with respect to football and overall athletic department profits. Thanks to so many of you who sent me tweets and emails about it, I’ve decided to make this into a series. Next up is the Big Ten. (If you missed the first piece and want to understand the origin of these numbers and how they were calculated, check the note at the end of this piece.)

There’s an argument to be made that the SEC is the strongest conference in college football. I’m not just saying that because I’m an SEC fan, I’m saying it because they’ve won the past five national championships. Perhaps then it is no surprise that the SEC surpasses the Big Ten in each and every category when it comes to football finance: it generates more, it spends more and it posts bigger profits.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the averages for each category (the totals would be misleading because the SEC has twelve teams and the Big Ten only eleven):

  Football Revenue Football Expenses Football Profit
SEC $49,900,780.92 $19,954,052.50 $29,946,728.42
Big Ten $40,578,173.45 $17,886,754.73 $22,691,418.73

While the SEC has the Big Ten beat in terms of football, the Big Ten teams bring in larger athletic department profits in the aggregate than SEC teams.  The total profit for athletic departments in the Big Ten is $117,750,068, while the SEC, who has one more team than the Big Ten, only posts aggregate profits of $97,887,580.00.  The Big Ten edges out the SEC in terms of average profit by school as well with $10,704,551.44 versus $8,157,298.33 in the SEC.

Enough of the comparisons between conferences (I think that’s all been settled on the field anyhow), let’s take a look at how the schools within the Big Ten stack up against one another.  In terms of revenue, I think it’s no surprise that Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan top the list:

  Football Revenue
Penn State Univ. $70,208,584.00
Ohio State Univ. $63,750,000.00
Univ. of Michigan $63,189,417.00
Univ. of Iowa $45,854,764.00
Michigan State Univ. $44,462,659.00
Univ. of Wisconsin $38,662,971.00
Univ. of Minnesota $32,322,688.00
Univ. of Illinois $25,301,783.00
Northwestern Univ. $22,704,959.00
Indiana Univ. $21,783,185.00
Purdue Univ. $18,118,898.00

Penn State is about $1.6 million short of matching the University of Alabama, who topped the SEC list in terms of football revenue.  In fact, the second-highest revenue-generating team in the SEC, Georgia, out paces Penn State by about $600,000. Remember, however, that Penn State’s stadium seats about 107,282, according to an NCAA attendance report, while Alabama’s seats 101,821 and Georgia’s seats just 92,746. Let’s take a look at where Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State rank versus Alabama and Georgia in terms of average attendance for the 2009 season (the same season as the financial data):

  1. Michigan (108,933)
  2. Penn State (107,008)
  3. Ohio State (105,261)
  4. Texas (101,175)
  5. Tennessee (99,220)
  6. Univ. of Georgia (92,746)
  7. LSU (92,489)
  8. Alabama (92,012)

Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State eclipsed Alabama and Georgia in home game attendance for the season by hundreds of thousands of fans. Michigan and Penn State each had eight home games, Ohio State and Alabama each had seven and Georgia had just six. It should also be noted that Georgia plays a neutral field game with University of Florida that brings in about $1.7 million for the school each year, compared to $2.8 million they average for an SEC home-and-away series.

The bottom line is that SEC teams who are playing fewer homes games in smaller stadiums and averaging fewer fans per game are still out-earning the Big Ten’s top teams.  Where that higher revenue comes from is unclear, as it could be anything from more expensive luxury boxes to higher alumni donations or more institutional support. 

One difference-maker could be the way broadcasting money is allocated by the schools when they prepare their financial statements for the Department of Education.  According to several Big Ten schools I spoke with, money from the Big Ten Network, which carries multiple sports, is not allocated by sport, but is instead included in “other” non-sport specific revenue.  Not every school from the Big Ten and SEC was willing to comment on how they allocate their broadcast revenue, so all we know is that the way broadcasting revenue is allocated varies by school. (See at the end for a more detailed explanation of the variances possible with this data.)

There’s a difference in expenses when you compare the Big Ten to the SEC as well.  First, here’s a look at the money being spent by Big Ten programs on football.

  Football Expenses
Ohio State Univ. $31,763,036.00
Univ. of Wisconsin $22,041,491.00
Penn State Univ. $19,780,939.00
Univ. of Iowa $18,468,732.00
Univ. of Michigan $18,328,233.00
Michigan State Univ. $17,468,458.00
Univ. of Minnesota $17,433,699.00
Northwestern Univ. $15,733,548.00
Indiana Univ. $12,822,779.00
Purdue Univ. $11,821,265.00
Univ. of Illinois $11,092,122.00

While Ohio State is spending slightly more than the SEC’s biggest spender (Florida at $31,118,134), the average expenses in the SEC are $19,954,052 compared to $17,886,754 in the Big Ten.

With both revenues and expenses being larger on average in the SEC, who turns a bigger profit in football?  Here are the Big Ten figures:

  Football Profit
Penn State Univ. $50,427,645.00
Univ. of Michigan $44,861,184.00
Ohio State Univ. $31,986,964.00
Univ. of Iowa $27,386,032.00
Michigan State Univ. $26,994,201.00
Univ. of Wisconsin $16,621,480.00
Univ. of Minnesota $14,888,989.00
Univ. of Illinois $14,209,661.00
Indiana Univ. $8,960,406.00
Northwestern Univ. $6,971,411.00
Purdue Univ. $6,297,633.00

As I mentioned in my previous article, University of Georgia is only surpassed by University of Texas in terms of football profits in the FBS.  At $52,529,885.00, Georgia edges out Penn State in terms of football profit, and the SEC as a whole averages over $2 million more a year per school in football profits.

While SEC football may be generating a larger profit, the athletic departments as a whole in the Big Ten are averaging larger profits than SEC schools.  The average athletic department in the Big Ten sees a $10,704,551 profit, while the average in the SEC is $8,157,298.

Here are some observations about Big Ten schools minus the SEC comparisons:

  • A look at Ohio State’s expenses should explain why they’re perennial contenders for BCS bowls.  They are spending almost $10 million more than the next biggest spender in the Big Ten (Wisconsin).  They’re also spending almost double what their rival, Michigan, is spending, which could perhaps explain the results on the field.
  • Illinois is spending less on football than Indiana and Purdue, who are known more for their basketball programs.  That being said, Illinois is putting 43.8% of their football revenue back into the program, which compares to Alabama and Auburn in the SEC.
  • Wisconsin, which only ranks #6 in the Big Ten in terms of revenue is putting a whopping 57% of football revenue back into the program.

Financials for other conferences:  SEC, ACCPac-10, Big 12 and Big East.

NOTE: The data I have is from the U.S. Department of Education. Federal statute requires schools to report the financials for their athletic department (if they receive the Title IV funding, which all ACC schools do).  The statute prescribes what should be included in each category on the report.  For example, when we take a look at revenue the statute requires that it include gate receipts, broadcast revenues, appearance guarantees and options, concessions, and advertising. In terms of expenses, we’re looking at grants-in-aid, salaries, travel, equipment, and supplies.

It’s also important to note that this data is from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010, so we’re talking about the 2009 football season.  Additionally, while these are the most complete numbers available for all Big Ten schools (a public records request wouldn’t get you financial information for the private schools), there is room for variance.

An official within an SEC athletic department provided me with the following qualifications to the data: ”For instance, some institutions may report debt service associated with their football stadium as direct football expenses, while others may show debt service as Other, Non-sport specific.  The same goes for game day security, parking, cleanup, etc. which some may show as direct football expenses, while others may show as facilities costs – not directly attributed to football.  I do believe total revenue and expense numbers are comparable, but when you break down the numbers into categories there is a lot of leeway for variances between institutions.”

Another variance that came to light in reviewing the SEC and Big Ten financials is that some schools do not attribute any of their broadcasting revenue to specific sports, but instead only include it in the Other, Non-Sport Specific category.  This means the athletic department profit number is probably the most reliable in terms of direct comparison.

Nonetheless, this is the most complete data available if you want to compare all of the schools (public and private).  Also, while the numbers may not allow for a perfect apples to apples comparison, they do reflect what each school chooses to show the federal government for purposes of proving their compliance with Title IX.  Certainly interesting to view the numbers in that light.

This article offers the personal observations of Kristi Dosh, and does not represent the views of her law firm or its clients.  Any information contained herein does not constitute legal advice. Consult your own attorney for legal advice on these matters.

Posted on January 30, 2011, in Big Ten, Conference Finance Series, Finance, Football and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

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