ACC “Only” Adding Extra $1-2 Million Yearly in Expansion

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

Author: Chadd Scott of

I have long been a proponent of expansion for the ACC.  I feel the league’s addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse position it for long-term strength and growth while maintaining and building upon its on and off-field culture and excellence.  I understand this opinion is not shared by most, perhaps even many, particularly those who view college sports only in the prism of present-day football success.  I am willing to listen to these arguments when well-made.

The level of absurdity in opposition to ACC expansion reached a new high on February 6th with this tweet from the usually outstanding college football reporter Bryan Fischer of

If the ACC only gets $1-2 million per school, then expansion definitely wasn’t worth it.

Fischer’s figure comes from reporting done by the Sports Business Journal in an article you can read here.  I’m not debating the figure, although my educated guess would be that spread is on the low side; what I take huge exception with is Fischer’s use of the word “only” in connection with that sum and his belief ACC expansion was a bust because of it.

Fischer has worked hard to build a reputation as a valued contributor to the national college football conversation and his ignorant choice of the word “only” followed by an equally ignorant opinion – and I like this guy – poisoned conversation on social media as fans picked up this opinion and parroted it widely.

Fact: in college athletics an additional $1-2 million per year for any school, especially any ACC school, is a princely sum.  If this figure turns out to be accurate it will 100% validate ACC Commissioner John Swofford in his choice both to expand and who to invite.  This figure stands as a game-changer for every athletic department in the ACC.

In all of college sports there are only 22 self-sustaining athletic departments.  These athletic departments support themselves financially with no outside state funding, student fees (of which ACC schools are a major offender), or university subsidies.  Of those 22 schools only one is an ACC member: Virginia Tech.  The most current data available shows the Hokies clearing $968,000 in one fiscal year from athletics.

That should be all the evidence I need to present in making my case.  That 11 out of 12 current ACC members either lose money or rely on handouts to run their athletic departments proves conclusively what a huge difference an extra $1-2 million per year to them would mean.  For a complete look at the financial picture in the ACC follow this link for team-by-team football revenues, expenses, profits and athletic department profits.  Athletic departments in the ACC exist on surprisingly narrow margins.

Do you think the Heels, Jackets, Noles or Terps view 1-2 million additional dollars per year as an “only” figure?  If your boss gave you a raise that multiplied your take home pay by five times, would you say the raise was “only” quintupling your salary?

A report in the Washington Post regarding Maryland and linked above states, “According to the report, it will cost $11.6 million to fund eight years of men’s and women’s swimming, $9.5 million to fund men’s track and acrobatics and tumbling, and $8 million to fund water polo and men’s tennis.”  Eleven-point-six million dollars to fund eight years of men’s and women’s swimming means combined both programs cost roughly $1.45 million to fund annually.  Hmm.  That figure sounds familiar.  Oh yea, it’s smack dab in the middle of the “only” amount Maryland stands to benefit from ACC expansion.

That is how this discussion needs to be framed.  What does $1-2 million per year, per institution mean to the ACC schools?  It means being able to fully fund three non-revenue sports.  And perhaps here is where most college sports fans take a wrong turn.  College athletics includes more than football and men’s basketball, the profitable sports.  It also includes women’s basketball, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, track, soccer, volleyball, golf, swimming and diving, lacrosse, field hockey and a handful of other sports, all of which make no money and spend considerably.  Football and men’s basketball pay for all the other sports which drag down the bottom line profitability for athletic departments.

Fans always think about money colleges bring in from TV rights deals for football and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but never consider the huge amount of money going out.  And remember, the astronomical billion dollar figures reached in those deals with ESPN or CBS or Fox are contracted out over 10 or 20 years and must be split evenly among all conference member institutions.  Those pie pieces become small in a hurry.

The reality in college athletics is university presidents and athletic directors hustling every day to find new revenue streams and pump-up those which already exist.  As the competition for top student-athletes and coaches becomes more fierce, as the facilities arms race escalates, as the cost of winning increases, every dollar, let alone every million, is valuable.  The university presidents know this and it was the university presidents who voted on Swofford’s plan for expansion, their vote – unanimously in favor.

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  • Elvis
    February 12, 2012

    So your argument is these schools are broke so they should be happy that after adding two more mouths to feed, they can add $1-$2 Million which puts them only $15 Million behind many of their competitors?

    Makes zero sense.

    You merely point out the ACC is no longer competitive financially……….and that the schools should simply be content with that. Being a non competitive BCS conference simply makes the ACC the next Big EAST.

    This is the first article on this website where I thought an article was way off base.

  • Bill in Montgomery
    June 26, 2012

    For an “extra” $1 million, you sacrifice historical conference ties, create a conference which lessens cultural similarities and strains geographic common sense. This $1 million wouldn’t fund a few months of the women’s cross country team. It won’t even pay the salary of a top offensive coordinator at many big-time schools. What you get – an extra one or two mil – isn’t worth what you give up, in my opinion. Also, these conference expansions and the 16-team football playoffs they will have bring about – will harm college sports in long run. For example, importance of conference titles is going to be down-graded. Travel for fans and teams is going to be more expensive, attendance may suffer. Intersectional games between top programs will become more rare, etc. Check back in 10 to 20 years and see if each school is actually making significantly more $ than they were before the expansion craze. My hunch is they will be making less and college athletics will not be as popular. The reach will get richer; the successful will probably become more successful, but for most fans their interest and passion in the games and seasons will decline.