It’s always about the money: Follow the dollars as decisions are made about fall college sports

(© Maridav –

You want insight into why FCS on down is putting the kibosh on fall sports, your insight comes from looking at the bottom line.

The interesting reality for just about everybody in college sports outside of the big boy conferences: they don’t make money.

Reviewing the USA Today NCAA Finances database, updated for the 2018-2019 academic year, you see quickly that college athletics is a bloodbath fiscally for everybody outside of the Power 5.

But let’s start there, to set the table.

Big dogs

First, at the top of the pyramid, again, as always, Texas. UT reported $223.9 million in athletics revenues in 2018-2019, and actually showed a $19.6 million profit.

Texas A&M was second, bringing in $212.8 million in revenues, and posting an astounding $43.7 million profit.

If you had wondered how it was that A&M could buy Florida State’s national championship-winning football coach out from under them, there’s how.

UVA, Tech

Next, to the major players in Virginia, which are nowhere near the Texas schools in terms of revenues, but they’re what we’ve got.

Virginia raked in $110.2 million in revenues in 2018-2019, but actually ran at a $2.4 million deficit, according to the USA Today analysis, and here’s where we’ll dive for the first time into the subcategory “student fees,” the dollars paid by students along with tuition at the beginning of the semester basically to underwrite the athletics program.

Think: kids working two jobs and taking out loans that they will be paying back for 20 years are pretty much unknowingly chipping in to pay for the football, basketball and other teams.

Ahem. Don’t like it. Never have liked it.

The Texas schools don’t do this.

Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma, LSU, Nebraska don’t do it.

Every one of our Virginia public schools does.

The total at UVA, $14.4 million, represented 13.1 percent of the overall athletics budget in 2018-2019.

Virginia Tech is the other Power 5 in the Commonwealth. Tech brought in $96.8 million in revenues in 2018-2019, with a modest $2.7 million profit, which is more than balanced out by the $10.3 million in student fees that went toward the revenue side, 10.6 percent of the overall budget for the year.

Everybody Else

The percent totals for UVA and Tech pale in comparison to our mid-majors.

JMU, a national power in FCS football, is an impressive 63rd nationally in revenues, reporting $52.7 million in receipts in the 2018-2019 academic year.

It’s a mirage: $41.6 million of that came from student fees.

That’s 78.9 percent.

This is where you start to see why leagues like the CAA, MEAC and Ivy aren’t playing fall sports.

The Power 5s have big-money TV contracts to at least give them something as seats in the stadiums are left empty this fall.

If you’re under the category Everybody Else, you have empty stadiums, at best a trickle of money from TV, and all that money sunk into COVID-19 tests, over and over and over, ad infinitum.

Back to our analysis, and ODU, which plays FBS football, albeit at the Group of 5 level.

ODU reported $47.0 million in revenues in 2018-2019, $28.8 million of that – 61.3 percent – from student fees.

VCU, which doesn’t play football, had $35.8 million in revenues, $21.3 million from student fees, 59.5 percent.

George Mason, also doesn’t play football, $30.6 million in revenues, $18.7 million from student fees, 61.1 percent.

William & Mary, which won’t be playing football in the fall, in line with the rest of the CAA: $29.5 million in revenues, $15.2 million from student fees, 51.5 percent.

VMI, where I’ve been doing broadcast work, on the radio and TV, for the past five years: $14.8 million in revenues, $6.3 million in fees, 42.3 percent.

As of this writing, the Southern Conference, of which VMI is a member, has not made a call on its plans for the fall.

VMI could be impacted even if the SoCon does decide to play if it loses its guarantee game at Virginia scheduled for September.

The contract for that game calls for VMI to receive $375,000 to play that game.

That’s 2.5 percent of the annual budget.

Two other non-football schools: Radford ($12.6 million in revenues, $10.1 million from student fees, 80.3 percent) and Longwood ($11.4 million in revenues, $7.5 million in student fees, 65.6 percent) round out our list.

Why they’re not playing

Isn’t it clear yet why the Everybody Elses aren’t playing?

And actually, I have to say that, as of this writing, JMU is reportedly trying to cobble together a football schedule, as long as there would be an opportunity to compete for an FCS playoff berth.

Which is just … bonkers.

I don’t say that because I’m one of those idiot sportswriters who assumes that everybody who gets COVID dies, because the numbers don’t come anywhere near bearing that out.

Another discussion for another day.

No, JMU is bonkers trying to cobble together a schedule if there’s an FCS playoff because there’s no money in playing FCS football when you can put butts in seats and don’t have to test 90 people for a virus over and over and over amen.

And one thing you’re not thinking about, because you’re almost certainly thinking about just football, is that the other fall sports – soccer, field hockey, volleyball – also do bupkis at the gate.

To me, the call for the Power 5 isn’t play football or not, it’s play football and those other sports, or just play football.

The big boys have too much money at stake to at least not play football.

The non-revenue sports at the Power 5 level, and then everything else for Everybody Else, meh.

Story by Chris Graham

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