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Finances of Intercollegiate Athletics

The annual report that examines revenues and expenses at athletics departments throughout the NCAA has returned in 2019 with two important enhancements.

The annual report that examines revenues and expenses at athletics departments throughout the NCAA has returned in 2019 with two important enhancements.

First, data analysis comparing finances at schools in the five autonomy conferences with those of other Division I schools is available for the first time. The data show the financial picture at most autonomy schools is vastly different than that of many of their Division I counterparts. NCAA members have repeatedly requested data demonstrating those differences and the research team has sought to meet that need with this year’s report.

“The membership has created more independence for those five conferences, and it is important to understand some of the financial realities at those institutions versus others in the FBS and Division I,” said Todd Petr, NCAA managing director of research.

Additionally, all data from the report are now available via a public interactive dashboard that will enable users to sort the information in innumerable ways to gain a more comprehensive understanding of finances in college athletics.

“We are very excited to provide this new tool to the membership and the broader public,” Petr said. “It will allow users to customize data searches and significantly increase the transparency and usefulness of the financial data.”

2018 Division I Revenues and Expenses – Key Findings 

  • While schools in the five autonomy conferences generate more revenue (via ticket sales, broadcast rights, and NCAA and conference distributions, among other sources) than their counterparts in the rest of Division I, median athletics expenses at those 65 schools exceeded their total generated revenues by $2.6 million in 2018. Meanwhile, among the nonautonomy schools in Division I, median expenses outpaced generated revenues by roughly $22 million. Schools account for those deficits by subsidizing athletics via student activity fees and direct support from the university, among other means. In total, only 29 athletics departments’ generated revenues exceeded their expenses in 2018 — all were in the autonomy five conferences — and the average surplus at those schools was $9.3 million. 
  • Operating results in 2018 ranged widely throughout the Football Bowl Subdivision: One athletics department operated at a $53 million shortfall; at the other end of the spectrum, a school finished the year with a $47 million surplus. At Football Championships Subdivision schools, median generated revenues decreased by 2.1% from 2017 to 2018, while expenses climbed 5.4%. Expenses outpaced generated revenues at every FCS institution, meaning their schools subsidized at least a portion of the athletics budget at every school across FCS. Those subsidies ranged from $2 million to over $46 million, with a median of $13.9 million.
  • In the Division I Subdivision (the remaining Division I schools without football) median expenses outpaced generated revenues by $13.3 million and, like the FCS, no single institution generated more revenue than it spent.
  • At the more than 1,100 NCAA schools across all three divisions, more than $18 billion was spent on athletics in 2018. Of that figure, $3.5 billion went toward financial aid for student-athletes and $3.4 billion was spent on coaches’ compensation. The total revenue generated among all NCAA athletics departments in 2018 was $10.3 billion, leaving nearly $8 billion that had to be subsidized by other sources at schools across the Association.
  • Autonomy schools accounted for 73% of all those revenues and only 43% of the total spending. Division I schools as a whole accounted for 97% of all NCAA-generated revenues and 83% of spending.

Division I Trends

As revenues at autonomy schools have risen sharply in recent years, thanks in large part to broadcast rights agreements, expenses have kept pace: Over a 14-year span, both generated revenues and expenses at autonomy schools are up by over 140%. At the remaining FBS schools, generated revenues are up 44%, and expenses rose 87% over the same time frame. The expense gap between autonomy schools and other FBS schools has jumped from $20 million in 2004 to $80 million in 2018. Meanwhile, over the past five years, median institutional support for autonomy schools has fallen by 23%, while it has jumped 18% among their FBS counterparts.

Those divergent trends reflect a gap that has widened considerably between autonomy schools and the rest of the FBS. Schools in the autonomy conferences have held the line financially since 2005: Their median deficit then ($2.5 million) is comparable to the figure in 2018 ($2.6 million). But during the same period, the same figure among FBS schools in nonautonomy conferences ballooned from $9 million to $22.2 million. Most of that increase has come since 2011, with the median deficit climbing nearly 60% in that time frame.

While coaching and administrative salaries have increased in Division I, that compensation hasn’t risen disproportionately relative to other athletics expenses: Over the past 14 years, the proportion of expenses devoted to coaching and administrative salaries has climbed about three percentage points at autonomy schools, now accounting for 35.4% of expenses. That figure has held relatively steady among the remaining FBS schools (between 33 and 34% of all expenses). Meanwhile, coaches and administrative compensation relative to expenses has fallen from 19% to 18% in the FCS and held firm (18%) at Division I Subdivision schools.

Revenues and Expenses Dashboard

The new interactive dashboard will enable users to sort the vast data set by using different parameters. The tool includes several tabs, each of which can be filtered by division or subdivision. They include:

  • A summary of 2018’s revenues and expenses.
  • Trends in revenues and expenses.
  • An itemized breakdown of where the money comes from (revenues) and where the money goes (expenses).
  • Trends in revenues and expenses by major financial indicators.
  • Athletic expenses compared to institutional expenses over time.
  • Trends by detailed expense items.
  • Trends by detailed revenue items.
  • The number of schools with positive and negative net generated revenue over time.