22 Elite College Sports Programs Turned a Profit in 2010, but Gaps Remain, NCAA Reports Says

June 15, 2011

Twenty-two elite athletics departments made money in 2010, up from 14 the previous year, according to an annual spending report released on Wednesday by the NCAA. The median surplus at those programs was $7.4-million last year, up from $4.4-million in 2009.

The numbers weren't nearly as rosy for everyone else. At the 98 other programs in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A), the median deficit in 2010 was $11.6-million, barely changing from the previous year, while no programs in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) or at Division I programs without football operated in the black. At those programs, losses continue to grow each year.

Two surprises from the report: Overall spending slowed at the NCAA's 120 largest athletics programs, with expenses growing by just under 2 percent in 2010. The previous year, they had grown by 11 percent. (The report noted, however, that over the two-year period from 2008 to 2010, the increase in expenses was nearly 13 percent—largely because of growth in scholarship costs and coaching salaries.)

And at Football Championship Subdivision programs, generated revenues—money that programs earn, in contrast with institutional allocations—grew by a healthy 14 percent. This was an improvement over 2009, when generated revenues dropped by 3 percent.

Disparities persist, though. The largest reported revenue among the elite grouping in 2010 ($143-million) dwarfed the median revenue for the entire bowl subdivision ($35-million). The largest reported expenses in that subdivision ($130-million) were more than triple the median ($47-million). (The NCAA does not break down the data by institution.)

Among Football Championship Subdivision programs—which, unlike athletics departments in the bowl grouping, rely heavily on institutional support and student fees and generate only a fraction of their own revenue—significant gaps remain. The largest reported revenue in that grouping was $19-million; the median was just over $3-million.

In that subdivision, which includes many programs new to Division I that are grappling with the intense financial commitment of big-time sports, expenses continue to grow. Overall expenses among FCS programs increased by 9 percent from 2009. The largest expense reported was just over $39-million; the median was $13-million. (Expenses grew at an even greater rate—10 percent—at programs without football.)

At nearly all Division I athletic programs, public and private, large and small, a majority of operating expenses falls into two categories: athletic scholarships, and salaries and benefits for coaches and administrative staff.

At bowl-subdivision programs, scholarships accounted for 17 percent of athletics budgets in 2010, with programs spending a median of $7-million annually on financial aid for athletes. Salaries and benefits for coaches and administrative staff represented a median of nearly $16-million, or roughly a third of all budgets. In both categories, those expenditures have remained relatively steady in recent years.

At Football Championship Subdivision programs, scholarships were a greater burden, taking up 29 percent of all expenses; salaries were just under a third. Not surprisingly, scholarship costs were greater at private institutions, which tend to have higher tuition: While athletics departments at public institutions spent a median of $3.2-million on financial aid for athletes, those at private institutions spent a median of nearly $5-million.

Among other key findings in the report:

  • The median generated revenue at FBS programs has increased from nearly $23-million in 2004 to $35-million in 2010. At FCS programs, median generated revenues grew during that time period from $2-million to just over $3-million.
  • Ticket sales, private donations, and allocations from the NCAA and athletic conferences represent the majority of revenues at FBS programs.
  • Gate receipts brought in a median of $9-million in 2010 at FBS programs. At FCS programs, they earned a median of $377,000.
  • In the FBS, the highest salaries and benefits paid to coaches were in football ($1.4-million); men's basketball ($962,000); women's basketball ($348,000); and men's ice hockey ($332,000).