TCF Bank Stadium at Univ. of Minnesota

How Much Do Big Ten Programs Rely on Alumni Contributions?

After reading about which SEC alumni have the deepest pockets, many of you Big Ten fans wondered about your own conference. I like to give the people what they want, so here it is:

  School Contributions % of Total Revenue
1 Ohio State Univ. $27,327,347.00 22%
2 Univ. of Iowa $26,753,591.00 30%
3 Michigan State Univ. $21,292,589.00 25%
4 Penn State Univ. $20,993,951.00 20%
5 Univ. of Michigan $19,297,426.00 18%
6 Univ. of Wisconsin $19,247,563.00 20%
7 Univ. of Illinois $18,835,017.00 25%
8 Indiana Univ. $18,475,498.00 27%
9 Purdue Univ. $12,732,548.00 21%
10 Univ. of Minnesota $7,320,786.00 9%

Nothing good happens to my inbox when I compare the SEC and Big Ten, but I thought I might as well since I have the numbers. The average contribution in the Big Ten is $19,227,631, while the average in the SEC is $22,910,607. Remember, the SEC had one school who showed no contributions at all and that’s included in the average. Without Mississippi State’s goose egg, the SEC’s average would be $25,201,668.

Hold up Big Ten fans..before you start emailing me with all the reasons why the SEC number might be higher, let me explain another way to look at these numbers. Many schools do not allow contributions to come through their athletic department, but instead have money flow through their booster club or athletic foundation and take a distribution for only what is needed to cover the budget. When I wrote my piece on SEC finances awhile back, one AD told me they only pull enough from their athletic foundation to cover their operating deficit. As an added wrinkle, some schools have multiple booster clubs, each specific to an individual sport, and only pull what is needed for each sport. Thus, the numbers you see may only reflect what is needed by the athletic department, not the actual value of contributions made that year.

Looking at the numbers in that light, let me point out that contributions only account for 22% of a Big Ten athletic department’s revenue on average, while the SEC uses an average of 23 percent. Also, the SEC has a high of 34% while the Big Ten tops out at 30 percent. Does that mean SEC schools require a larger amount of contributions to fund their budget because of shortfalls in other sources of revenue? Or does it mean that some SEC schools are able to spend more because they choose to take larger distributions from their booster club or athletic foundation? It’s difficult to say.

The only number that really jumps out at me is University of Minnesota. I spoke with Garry Bowman in their athletic department and he confirmed that they only pull from their athletic foundation, where all contributions are managed, what they need each year.

University of Minnesota uses contributions for a much smaller portion of their overall athletic department revenue than any school I’ve looked at in the SEC or Big Ten (aside from Mississippi State, who relied on no contributions for 2009-2010). I looked back at Minnesota’s contribution numbers from the two years prior and found even lower numbers of $3.5 for 2008-2009 and $5.1 for 2007-2008. It’s hard to say how much this can be attributed to the new stadium they opened in 2009, which would have required massive concentrated fundraising efforts for the university to fund their 52% of costs (the State paid the remainder), but it’s a safe bet this played a role in the amount of contributions the athletic department accessed in recent years. Mr. Bowman also pointed out that they didn’t begin their preferred seating plan until the 2009 season, which is a significant source of donor money for many schools.

TCF Bank Stadium at Univ. of Minnesota

Now that you’ve taken a look at the SEC and Big Ten, I have several questions for fans of teams in both conferences. First, if your school’s athletic department is only pulling what they need to cover losses from the booster club, do you think they should be pulling more? If so, for what use? Second, what percentage of total contributions that come in per year do you think the athletic department should be spending and what percentage should be saved for projects down the road?

*Note that Northwestern’s number is unavailable because as a private institution they are not subject to an open records request.

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