Rich Keep Getting Richer: The Growing Divide between Powerhouse Football Programs and their Counterparts

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By Shannon Flaherty, @shannonscf (SMU)

After paying out salaries and other expenses, Alabama football still ended up with a whopping net profit of $47 million in 2016. Vasha Hunt/vhunt@al.com

After paying out salaries and other expenses, Alabama football still ended up with a whopping net profit of $47 million in 2016Vasha Hunt/vhunt@al.com

Financial statements were recently released for the University of Alabama football program.

The Crimson Tide rolled in a grand total of $103,971,075 in revenue in 2016.

Of the $103 million, some $21 million came from media rights fees, $37 million from ticket sales, and $5 million from bowl revenues.

After paying out salaries and other expenses, Alabama football still ended up with a whopping net profit of $47 million. With numbers like these, who would ever believe that intercollegiate athletics programs would, more often than not, end up costing the university more than the program makes in profit.

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Few teams end their seasons in the black and even fewer bring in figures the size of Alabama’s.

According to the NCAA Revenues and Expenses of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics Programs Report, only 24 colleges had profitable athletic programs in the year 2014.

Texas Football has been a traditional powerhouse when it comes to revenue. Photo via patchcdn.com

Texas Football has been a traditional powerhouse when it comes to revenue. Photo via patchcdn.com

Those 24 schools are a minority in collegiate athletics, and highlight the divide between the “have and have-not” schools.  

Powerhouse programs like the Crimson Tide, Texas Longhorns, and The Ohio State Buckeyes seem to keep getting richer each passing season.  

Their programs continue to dominate in recruiting, sponsorships, media rights, and fan attendance.  

But just as the cycle continues to perpetuate growth for these universities, others are left in slumps from which they cannot seem to pull themselves out.   

Programs are pressured to increase spending to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ when it comes to attracting star talent. Stadiums and facilities seem to be constantly getting bigger. Luxury suites and mega jumbotrons are the norms for college athletic facilities.  

But of course, it all comes with a cost.  

When athletic programs cannot cover their own expenses, universities are stuck with the bill and must subsidize their own athletics.  

The average school spent a reported $14.7 million to subsidize their athletic departments in 2014, and that number continues to grow.

"There is still a misperception that most schools are generating more money than they spend on college athletics," said NCAA Chief Financial Officer Kathleen McNeely. "The data shows once again that the truth is just the opposite."

"The overwhelming majority of colleges and universities in the NCAA across all three divisions subsidize part or all of athletics. The reason they invest is because sports provide educational value to student-athletes while enhancing overall campus life and building life-long connections with alumni and other supporters. Those are all important outcomes from athletic programs that are worth celebrating, sharing and investing in wisely.”

What can be done to level the imbalance between those who dominate and those who are barely keeping their programs afloat? How can a university attract more fans and donors?  

These are questions consistently faced by athletic directors and staff when attempting to maximize the performance of their athletic programs while minimizing expenses under pressure from their schools.  

The future is uncertain for the majority of athletic programs who can only dream of turning a profit the size of Alabama’s. For now, it appears the top dogs will remain such in college athletics, while everyone is left to try to keep up.   

Student Bio: Shannon Flaherty is a junior at Southern Methodist University double majoring in Marketing and Applied Physiology & Sport Management.  She is a student-athlete on the Pom Squad.  Flaherty is interested in pursing a career in the sport marketing industry. You can connect with Shannon on LinkedIn here.

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