Who’s Making Money in the Mountain West?

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

After writing about the football finances of the SECBig Ten, ACCPac-10, Big 12, Big East, Conference USA  and the Mid-American Conference, it’s time to take a look at the Mountain West.

The numbers are drawn from schools’ reports to the U.S. Department of Education on the state of their athletic departments’ finances for July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. See the note at the end for more details on the data.

Before we look at football revenue in the Mountain West, let’s take another look at the averages for the six AQ conferences:

Football Revenue:

SEC ($49.9m)

Big Ten ($40.6m)

Big 12 ($35.4m)

Pac-10 ($24.6m)

ACC ($20.9m)

Big East ($18.8m)

Conference USA came in at roughly half of the lowest AQ conference (the Big East) at $9.3 million and the average Mid-American school brought in just over half the revenue of an average Conference USA school at $5.5 million. The Mountain West finishes as the most successful non-AQ conference in terms of football revenue at an average of $11.3 million.

Here’s each school’s revenue from football with the exception of the Air Force Academy, which does not have to report its numbers:

 Football Revenue
Univ of Utah$14,690,174.00
San Diego State$10,884,119.00
Univ of Wyoming$9,145,222.00
Colorado State$7,288,328.00
Univ New Mexico$7,018,389.00
USAF Academy N/A

If you remove TCU, Utah and BYU from the equation, as will be the case over the next two years, the average in the Mountain West falls to $8.0 million. This would still be good enough for second place behind Conference USA for the non-AQ conference bringing in the most revenue from football. If you add in members joining the Mountain West over the next two years (Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii), the average rises to $10.6 million. As a side note, Hawaii is only joining the Mountain West for football.

Here’s a look at what each school in the Mountain West is spending on football:

 Football Expenses
Univ of Utah$9,896,863.00
San Diego State$9,584,060.00
Colorado State$7,288,328.00
Univ New Mexico$7,018,389.00
Univ of Wyoming$6,428,503.00
USAF AcademyN/A

The Mountain West again edges out Conference USA and tops the list of non-AQ conferences for expenditures on football at an average of $9.8 million. As you can see, however, the three schools spending the most are the ones who will be moving into AQ conferences in the next couple of years. Without them, the conference only averages $7.4 million. Add in the new teams joining the conference and the averages moves up to $8.7, which is the same as Conference USA’s average currently.

Here’s how the AQ conferences stacked up in terms of expenses on football:

SEC ($20m)

Big Ten ($17.9m)

Pac-10 ($16.2m)

Big 12 ($15.8)

ACC ($14.8m)

Big East ($14.6)

As you can see, the gap between AQs and non-AQs is not nearly as large when it comes to money spent on football as it is on money made on football. Although the income level for non-AQ conferences could be putting a ceiling on football expenses, the real difference is the money left over for other sports. Typically, football and men’s basketball are the only two sports who can generate revenue to support the other sports. Check out my previous post on the stark difference between AQs and non-AQs when it comes to how “other sports” are financially supported.

Predictably, football profits aren’t nearly as large in the Mountain West as in AQ conferences:

 Football Profit
Univ of Utah$4,793,311.00
Univ of Wyoming$2,716,719.00
San Diego State$1,300,059.00
Colorado State$0.00
Univ New Mexico$0.00
USAF AcademyN/A

These numbers are still good enough for best average in the non-AQs at $1.6 million over Conference USA’s $504,000. To give you some perspective, profit-leaders in the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 all come in over $50 million.

As I illustrated in the piece on how other sports are financially supported, in the non-AQs it takes student fees, government subsidies and direct institutional support in order for the athletic department to break even or turn a profit. As you can see, only a couple of schools in the Mountain West show a profit in their athletic department:

 Athletic Dept Profit
Colorado State$798,197.00
Univ New Mexico$0.00
San Diego State$0.00
Univ of Utah$0.00
Univ of Wyoming$0.00
USAF AcademyN/A
When looking at profits, keep in mind that these figures include more than just profits from the operation of sports, it also includes student fees, alumni contributions, direct institutional support and state funds.
I showed you how the conference picture changes when BYU, Utah and TCU leave in the next two years. So, how do Utah and TCU fit into their new conferences?
TCU would generate the third-most revenue in the Big East based on these 2009-2010 numbers, behind West Virginia and Pitt. They would lead the conference in football expenses with Rutgers and Pitt being $1 million and $3 million behind, respectively. Looking at the way they run their athletic department, they will be a solid fit for the Big East from day one.
Utah, however, it moving into a conference where they will begin near the bottom financially. Based on these 2009-2010 numbers, they would come in second-to-last in the Pac-10/12 for football revenue ahead of only Washington State. The same is true for their expenditures on football. They would again finish ahead of Washington State and also Stanford for football profits, but finish the day with no profit in the athletic department. Currently only half of the Pac-10 shows a profit in the athletic department, so Utah is not alone.
I’m interested to hear what you take from all these numbers. Are you viewing them in a vacuum or are you comparing them to what we saw in the AQs?

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 Mountain West 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. 

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.

Thanks to my research assistant Ben Perreira for helping compile the data.

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  • Steve
    May 10, 2011

    One Thing I find a bit interesting here is how the cost of the college scholarships need to be figured in. For example, TCU has very high Tuition so a full ride scholarship there is significantly more expensive than a full ride at a Wyoming with very low Tuition costs. You can be talking a 20K difference an athlete here.

    Some school simply get more bang for the buck and that is hard to show. A private school may be spending well over $1.5 million more on scholarships than a public for the same number of athletes.

    The revenue and profit numbers may indicate more then the expense numbers to me anyway