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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

May 15, 2012 at 12:02 PM

The big bucks of college athletics

One of the functions USA Today performs best is detailed looks at various financial aspects of college athletics, such as its annual surveys of coaching salaries. Today is an example of that, as the newspaper looks at the expenses and revenues of each public institution across the country, highlighting Texas as the bellwether school in both departments (it becomes a lot more apparent, if it wasn’t already, why Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was courting the Longhorns so actively two years ago).

Here’s the link to the database.

There are a couple of themes: The obvious one is simply the philosophical question of whether, at a time of fiscal austerity for a lot of school budgets nationwide, the finances of athletic departments are out of control. But beyond that, there’s an issue related closely to the realignment mania that has swept the country the past two years. The size of the budgets of the big spenders compared to some of the lesser schools — but ones the big boys compete against — further crystallizes the debate of whether we’re bound for a college athletic world in which the moneyed schools break off and form superconferences.

In that vein, Rob Spear, the athletic director at Idaho, told KJR Radio last week that he could foresee, rather than the FBS and FCS levels currently, another division, which ostensibly would be the lesser schools of the current FBS.

In other words, in that world, you’d have Florida and Alabama still at the top level, but Louisiana-Monroe and Troy (and a bunch of better-known schools) would be at a lower level than the current FBS (the old Division 1-A).

What I found striking about the numbers associated with Washington and Washington State was, their revenues for the 2010-11 year (latest available) are not what you might think. Washington, at $70,231,336, is a mere 30th nationally — just behind Indiana and just ahead of Kansas State. The Huskies are far behind schools like Louisville ($87-plus million) and Arkansas ($91M-plus).

WSU is 59th at $39,983,482, just behind New Mexico, and trailing schools like Cincinnati, Iowa State and San Diego State.

It’s worth throwing in a caveat here sometimes voiced by UW athletic director Scott Woodward and others. These figures can be fluid and occasionally deceiving, influenced by one-time donations — or, I suppose, affected by capital projects. A donor could potentially limit his regular contribution and provide a major one-time gift to a stadium renovation, for instance.

At both schools, it’s fair to say that bad times in football have affected income, although in Washington’s case, it’s three years removed from the lost-at-sea end of the Tyrone Willingham regime. WSU has a fresher view of the lean times, trying to dig out from the financial stress of Paul Wulff’s 9-40 years.

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