Home Mailbag: Where does the money that donors assume is going to UVA football actually go?

Mailbag: Where does the money that donors assume is going to UVA football actually go?

football money
(© Scott Maxwell – stock.adobe.com)

How does a top three public university justify going on the cheap for the moneymaker football should be? It all seems disjointed. A huge scoreboard for a team that often doesn’t do enough of it. Sigh!

You know more about the money stuff than I pretend to know. Is it safe to say that men’s basketball is the bell cow at UVA? I’ve been to games at JPJ against creampuff opponents that are packed.

I guess winning is attractive, and college football is on Saturday (mostly) when people like to tailgate and the weather is pleasant.

I’m curious what the fix for football is? Or is too late, mixed with apathy and poor execution? Is it too late for football, or has it been for years?

Bryan Paul Hagen

No, football is still the big moneymaker for UVA Athletics, but only because the bulk of the money for football is from TV.

According to the Sportico database that I cited in my first report on UVA Athletics revenues this week, total operating revenues for the football program, in the 2022-2023 fiscal year, were $51.2 million.

TV money is the reason for the $20 million operating surplus for UVA football in 2022-2023, and that’s only possible because the ACC divides TV money equally among its member schools, which has been a point of contention raised by Florida State and Clemson, the two schools that are in litigation with the ACC over the exit fee and the grant of media rights that makes it practically impossible for them to bolt for another conference.

FSU and Clemson, rightly so, want a bigger piece of the pie, and probably deserve it, not only because they draw the TV numbers that make the ACC football TV package worth anything, but because they actually spend money on football.

According to Sportico, FSU spent $75.6 million on its football program in 2022-2023, and Clemson spent $66.8 million on football in 2022-2023.

The other six reporting ACC schools – Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, UNC, NC State and Louisville – spent an average of $35.0 million on football in 2022-2023.

In effect, the schools that aren’t FSU and Clemson are having their football mediocrity subsidized by the two power programs, and that money basically pays for women’s basketball (which, at UVA, ran a $3.5 million operating deficit in 2022-2023) and the other non-revenue sports (which, at UVA, ran a $17.9 million operating deficit in 2022-2023).

Men’s basketball actually operates at a relatively decent surplus margin – at UVA, men’s hoops brought in $18.2 million in revenues in 2022-2023, and registered a $4.5 million operating surplus.

So, that’s the situation with the money, and I know that Bryan’s questions included the money, and then, how it’s spent.

Where I am with the money is, UVA Athletics, it appears to me, is coasting on what it does in football, knowing that there’s a fixed income from the ACC’s TV deal that’s there whether the football season ends in the Orange Bowl or with a loss to Virginia Tech, and is using its conservative approach there, my nice way of saying, doing football on the cheap, to pay for the non-revenue sports.

If you’re a non-revenue sports fan, you point to the success with the women’s swimming, men’s tennis and men’s lacrosse programs winning national titles – just in the last four years, four from the women’s swimming program, two from men’s tennis and one from men’s lacrosse – and you feel pretty good.

If you’re a football fan, you look at back-to-back three-win seasons and home games played in a half-empty stadium, and you feel cheated.

And if you feel cheated as a fan, imagine how the student-athletes, coaches and donors feel.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].