Which Is More Important: Booster Contributions or NCAA and Conference Distributions?

Last Updated on March 11, 2023

It’s a “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” type question – which propels a school to success: booster support or a top revenue generating conference? Obviously both are important, but which do top-ranked football programs rely upon more?

I recently ran across this article by Michael Lewis of the Salt Lake Tribune where he discusses how crucial it is for Utah to start bringing in contributions that rival those received by other Pac-12 institutions. Utah had its best fundraising year ever last year, raising $5.2 million. However, it’ll need to raise over twice that just to be at the league average of $11 million in the Pac-12. To match the leader in contributions in the Pac-12, USC, Utah will need to raise around $27 million.

I took a look at the financial statements I have for schools and found a familiar trend amongst those who’ve had football success in recent years. The majority receive more in contributions than in conference distributions. So which is more important? Contributions or conference distributions? Does being in a top conference bring you more contributions? Do higher levels of contributions increase your chance of getting into an AQ conference if you’re in a non-AQ conference?

Let’s take a look at last year’s BCS Top 25 and see which schools relied upon more, contributions or conference distributions:

 SchoolContributionsNCAA/Conference DistributionsDifference
6Ohio State$27,327,347.00$23,943,397.00$3,383,950.00
9Michigan State$21,292,589.00$22,578,159.00($1,285,570.00)
10Boise State$6,553,812.00$6,242,864.00$310,948.00
13Virginia Tech$16,138,765.00$12,081,194.00$4,057,571.00
14Oklahoma State$51,877,388.00$12,570,471.00$39,306,917.00
17Texas A&M$20,512,889.00$11,900,472.00$8,612,417.00
20South Carolina$23,987,283.00$19,549,286.00$4,437,997.00
21Mississippi State$0.00$18,234,538.00($18,234,538.00)
22West Virginia $15,729,528.00$10,416,908.00$5,312,620.00
23Florida State$23,245,513.00$13,323,332.00$9,922,181.00

A couple of things to note. First, TCU and Stanford’s numbers are unavailable because they are private institutions. Second, Mississippi State shows no contributions because they chose not to take a distribution from their booster club in fiscal year 2010. Not all schools separate out NCAA and conference distributions, so they are tabulated here together.

As you can see, most of the schools on this list take in significantly more in contributions than in NCAA and conference distributions, regardless of conference affiliation.

Are boosters more important than television contracts or BCS and March Madness appearances? How does a school increase the contribution levels of its alumni to stay competitive?

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  • brewonsouthu
    August 1, 2011

    Three significant points omitted: 1. Big Ten TV Network is the elephant unmentioned by this review: it has revolutionized the “balance” which you analyze here, and has been trigger for all the Conference shuffles and machinations; 2) OKla State should not be left out of any such discussion, ie T Boone Pickens mammoth donations; 3) Impact of entities separate from the school, which is common in the south. Some of the amounts garnered as contribution to those non-school entities don’t show in the numbers quoted, but are “generally” affiliated with, and give benefit to, the sports.

  • Rick Thompson @RickT87
    August 1, 2011

    Your question at the end of this blog is the $100m question! Or the $3m question for most schools… Rick

  • Brian
    August 2, 2011


    This article also looks at the money in football, and compares donations to earnings for the various conferences.