Inside the Numbers 2: The Boom in Tech Athletics
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #20
Perhaps you've noticed a slew of Title IX-related articles lately. That's for two reasons: (1) Title IX is 30 years old this year, which means that it's celebrating three decades of driving up the cost of intercollegiate athletics and causing men's sports programs to be cut; and (2) The Chronicle of Higher Education recently released its NCAA Title IX compliance data, data which is distributed to sports writers and columnists around the country.
The Chronicle's database is a vast collection of information about Division 1 college athletics, not just in the area of gender equity (vis-à-vis number of scholarships granted to men and women), but also in the area of revenue and expenses for athletic programs, with separate breakouts for football and men's and women's basketball.
Most sportswriters who have examined the data are using it to report on gender equity: which schools comply, which ones don't, etc. But me personally, I'm most intrigued by the financial data that shows how much each school's football program and basketball programs make and spend, not to mention what the overall athletic department makes and spends.
The Chronicle's latest set of figures is for the 2000-2001 academic year, which means they're running one year behind (which makes sense; that's a lot of data to compile). Their database goes all the way back to 1995-96, which means that if you examine their Virginia Tech data, you can get a good picture of what's been going on financially in Tech athletics.
As regular TSLX readers know, I love the financial numbers. So strap it on and take a look. The Chronicle's figures paint a picture of a Tech athletic department that is booming, nearly doubling its revenue -- and, unfortunately, its expenses -- in the last five years alone.
Athletic Department Revenue, 1997-2001
The Chronicle has revenue data going back to the 1995-96 academic year, and the data includes football revenue, men's and women's basketball revenue, and total athletic department revenue.
Prior to the 1997-98 academic year, the Chronicle's data is incomplete. Their web site contains some data for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 academic years, but it doesn't include basketball revenue in either one of those years, and it doesn't include total revenue for 1995-96.
Hence, the blank cells in the following table.
The Chronicle's data show that athletic department revenue at Virginia Tech is rising fast, having increased 75.8% in just four years, from 96-97 to 00-01, approximately 15% per year. That's a healthy growth rate, to say the least. I wish my paycheck was growing like that.
What's Included in the Data
Before you start asking where all that revenue comes from, a word of warning: it's almost impossible to tell. Even the Chronicle of Higher Education itself doesn't really know, on a school-by-school basis.
I emailed Welch Suggs, the Athletic Editor at the Chronicle (and no relation to Lee Suggs), and asked him if he could tell me what the term "revenue" included. All he could really do, and rightfully so, was point me towards the form that each school had to fill out, a form called the "Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act report."
"The revenue and expense items can vary from institution to institution," he warned me. "Some athletics departments may count scholarship dollars as revenue received from their college's general fund, while others will count them as expenses paid to the college. So be wary."
Indeed. The EADA report that each school fills out has 16 different revenue categories (for each sport, with 20 men's sports and 21 women's sports listed, plus an "Other sports" category for each) and 12 different expense categories, but there's still a lot of wiggle room for schools to put dollars in one category versus another. Here are the revenue and expense items schools are asked to fill out for each sport reported on:
Revenue sources: public ticket sales, student ticket sales, student activity fees, guarantees and options, cash contributions from alumni and others, direct state or other govt. support, institutional support, bowl games, tournament money, NCAA/conference distributions, concessions, radio and television, program sales and advertising, signage/sponsorships/royalties, sports camp revenues, and all other revenues.
Expense objects: athletic student aid, guarantees and options paid, salaries, salary benefits, recruiting, team travel (including lodging and meals), equipment/uniforms/supplies, officials, fund raising, contract services, sports camp expenses, and all other expenses.
Note that "debt service" and "capital expense" are two categories that the EADA report asks for, but which are not included in "total expenses." Interpret that as you will. It could mean that, for example, construction projects like the football team's new $1 million practice field are not included in the expense report for football … or maybe they are. It's all in how the individual school decides to fill out the form, as Welch Suggs noted.
Hokie Club Donations
Your first thought is that football revenue is the driver in the big increase in overall revenue, but it's not the sole factor. There is a "base" football revenue figure (not including bowl money) that has been gradually rising from about $7.5 million per year in 1995-96 to just over $13 million in 2000-01, but that doesn’t explain the $12 million increase in overall athletic department revenue from 1996-97 to 2000-2001.
So where does the extra money come from? From another rapidly growing source, one that's growing as fast as football revenue: Hokie Club donations.
We know in a general sense that Hokie Club donations have been growing over the last few years, but exactly how much? By doing some research in the TechSideline.com archives, I was able to piece together some figures that are probably pretty accurate.
First of all, here's a table that shows Hokie Club revenue from 1997-98 to the present:
It's important to name the sources for this information.
1997-98 and 1998-99: A HokieCentral.com News and Notes article from August 13, 1999 stated that " … fund-raising year from June of 1998 [sic] to June of 1999, the Hokie Club raised $8.9 million, which is a new record and beat the previous year's record by a whopping 41 percent." Doing the math leads to a figure of $6.8 million from July 1997-June 1998.
1999-2000: A HokieCentral.com News and Notes article from August 7, 2000, stated, "Lu Merritt reported that in the most recent year [1999-2000], the Hokie Club topped $10 million in donations, easily smashing last year's record of $8.9 million."
2000-01 and 2001-02: A TSL "Voice of the Fan" column from May 15, 2002, reported that Lu Merritt, at an O&M tour stop, had said, "This year’s [2001-02] athletic budget will reach $25 million dollars. Of that amount, $11-12 million will be gifts through the Hokie club that the volunteers spearhead. That compares to $10.3 million last year [2000-01]." For purposes of this article, I averaged the "$11-$12 million" figure to $11.5 million.
Looking at the previous tables, you can see that in the three-year span from 1997-98 to 2000-01, athletic department revenue increased by $9.4 million, and $4 million of that came from increased Hokie Club donations. Football revenue increased by nearly $5 million over that same time period. Basketball revenue (men's plus women's) held steady over that same time period.
Athletic Department Profit/Loss, 1997-2001
The dramatic increase in revenue, fueled by the football program and Hokie Club donations, immediately leads to the question of whether the department is making a profit, and if so, how much.
Let's reprint the revenue figures, but this time we'll add in the expenses and calculate profit/loss.
You can see that while revenue has been exploding, so have expenses. That's Will's Law #5 of finance: the more you have, the more you spend. But that's what it's all about: when your business is making more, then you spend more and build the business up, so the business can keep making more.
The source of the profit from 1996-97 and 1999-2000 is obvious: those are years that the football team went to BCS bowls, which bring in an extra $3-$4 million or more than non-BCS bowl games, under the Big East revenue sharing agreement (BCS bowl participants make $4-$6 million, while Gator bowl participants and others make about $1.5 million or less).
But the $3.1 million profit from 2000-2001 does not include BCS bowl money. The implication is that BCS bowls are no longer required for the VT Athletic Department to turn a tidy profit in any given year, not now that football ticket revenue and football TV appearance revenue are climbing.
Individual Sport Profit/Loss
Here are some tables showing how football, men's basketball, and women's basketball fared in recent years. You can see what a profit center football is, and you can also see that while women's basketball is a money sink, as expected, men's basketball at VT is a painful situation, as well.
In 1999-2000, the VT men's basketball program was ranked 136th out of 137 teams studied by The Detroit News in terms of profit/loss. That year, the Hokies lost $651,222 on men's basketball, and only Colorado (with a staggering loss of $1,199,867) lost more.
It's interesting to note that in 2000-2001, the year VT entered the Big East for all sports, basketball went from losing $1.29 million the prior year to getting hammered for a $2.37 million loss. All-sports membership in the Big East, from a financial standpoint, has been brutal for the Hokies.
Don't forget that for the first five years of BE membership (2000-01 to 2004-05) the Hokies are (a) not sharing in Big East basketball revenue, and (b) paying $200,000 per year to join the conference. From year #6 onward, the Hokies get to share Big East revenue, estimated at over $1 million a year, but they have to pay $300,000 a year during years 6-10 of Big East membership.
In 2000-2001, the Hokies (a) lost $100,000 in revenue sharing by leaving the A-10; (b) paid $200,000 to the Big East for the year; and (c) paid $200,000 to exit the A-10. There's no telling if the Hokies reported all those changes under basketball revenue/expenses or elsewhere, but that $500,000 hit was pretty painful to absorb that year.
Looking down the road, Virginia Tech will soon top $30 million in revenue, if not for the 2001-2002 academic year, then for the 2002-2003 year. Seven home football games with an expanded stadium and an eighth game, a preseason contest that will pay about $600,000, guarantees that the Hokies will top $30 million in overall revenue for 2002-2003. That's with or without a BCS bowl.
The popular theory is that conference realignment looms on the horizon, perhaps around 2005. In terms of athletic revenue and overall athletic budget, and everything that entails, the Hokies are doing everything they can to position themselves for the big shakedown. Business is booming at Virginia Tech.