TV Money Drives Budgets of Top-25 College Football Programs

For many Americans, Labor Day means gathering with friends and families to barbecue and celebrate the start of the college football season. Thanks largely to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1984, NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, college football games are widely broadcast across a variety of networks and now, platforms.

In the NCAA v. Board of Regents case, the University of Oklahoma and University of Georgia challenged on federal antitrust grounds a television distribution model, whereby the NCAA limited and controlled how universities’ football games were broadcast nationally. The model implemented ceilings and floors for the broadcast of Division I programs’ games. The NCAA asserted that the model promoted competitive balance, as teams from smaller conferences were assured that some games would be broadcast, while powerhouse programs could not have their games shown weekly.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court struck down the NCAA’s distribution model under the Sherman Antitrust Act using the Rule of Reason test. The result was one that shifted the economic model of Division I athletics, as for the first time, individual universities were able to sell the broadcast rights for their regular season games. While most universities pooled their rights with other conference members to sell them collectively to networks, others like Notre Dame entered into individual television deals. Arguably, Notre Dame’s 1991 television deal with NBC valued at $38 million helped the team’s football program acquire a national fan base.

These days, broadcasting revenue reigns king when it comes to driving an athletic department’s budget. However, the tide of college sports broadcasting is turning, with many university athletics departments and conferences beginning to enter into new media distribution deals. For instance, this season, Utah State and Weber State played in the first college football game ever broadcast on Twitter.

While new media may provide a mechanism for athletic departments outside of the Power Five conferences to gain competitive balance in terms of exposure, at the end of the day, programs in conferences that are parties to lucrative television deals continue to win financially and on the field.

The chart below highlights the revenue and expenses for the football programs and athletic departments, respectively, ranked in the Associated Press’ pre-season top-25 poll. The data was obtained from the Department of Education and is from the 2014-15 fiscal year. It’s important to note that the Department of Education does not provide strict guidelines on how athletic departments report this financial data. For instance, some athletic departments may report service payments and payouts to the university, while others may not. Thus, this data cannot be read as being an absolute depiction of an athletic department’s finances. Rather, the data is the only publicly available set of financial information providing a glimpse at how top football programs and athletic departments spend and make money.

University Football Rev. Football Exp. Football Net Income
Alabama $97,023,963 $51,044,292 $45,979,671
Clemson $43,959,747 $24,191,774 $19,767,973
Oklahoma $78,737,409 $30,316,609 $48,420,800
Florida State $70,321,194 $31,299,768 $39,021,426
LSU $86,312,831 $28,639,663 $57,673,168
Ohio State $83,547,428 $32,588,493 $50,958,935
Michigan $88,251,525 $31,880,547 $56,370,978
Stanford $37,519,312 $19,912,411 $17,606,901
Tennessee $94,377,857 $24,511,032 $69,866,825
Notre Dame $86,125,989 $31,872,250 $54,253,739
Ole Miss $53,399,653 $25,164,361 $28,235,292
Michigan State $59,227,831 $27,694,367 $31,533,464
TCU $41,259,536 $33,751,213 $7,508,323
Washington $66,941,640 $29,136,569 $37,805,071
Houston $11,306,212 $11,306,212 $0
UCLA $44,727,001 $26,858,792 $17,868,209
Iowa $52,354,781 $25,482,299 $26,872,482
Georgia $86,719,115 $26,154,335 $60,564,780
Louisville $36,383,759 $18,654,530 $17,729,229
USC $45,886,944 $30,575,240 $15,311,704
Oklahoma State $43,778,793 $19,523,281 $24,255,512
North Carolina $36,050,976 $21,741,635 $14,309,341
Baylor $35,575,376 $28,433,715 $7,141,661
Oregon $60,956,894 $20,679,336 $40,277,558
Florida $74,720,732 $37,473,203 $37,247,529
University Ath. Dept. Rev. Ath. Dept. Exp. Ath. Dept. Net Income
Alabama $150,620,199 $120,528,937 $30,091,262
Clemson $76,979,261 $76,847,626 $131,635
Oklahoma $135,660,070 $124,732,244 $10,927,826
Florida State $121,319,469 $97,710,146 $23,609,323
LSU $138,914,636 $121,888,715 $17,025,921
Ohio State $170,903,135 $136,966,818 $33,936,317
Michigan $132,336,025 $131,003,957 $1,332,068
Stanford $109,670,730 $109,668,805 $1,925
Tennessee $121,837,383 $108,735,063 $13,102,320
Notre Dame $121,260,381 $100,035,458 $21,224,923
Ole Miss $81,024,639 $74,772,140 $6,252,499
Michigan State $93,878,291 $89,491,630 $4,386,661
TCU $80,608,562 $80,608,562 $0
Washington $103,540,117 $88,580,078 $14,960,039
Houston $45,437,943 $45,437,943 $0
UCLA $96,912,767 $96,912,767 $0
Iowa $107,404,210 $90,426,883 $16,977,327
Georgia $116,151,279 $101,559,307 $14,591,972
Louisville $104,325,208 $101,624,438 $2,700,770
USC $105,919,366 $105,919,366 $0
Oklahoma State $85,645,208 $80,196,450 $5,448,758
North Carolina $85,288,270 $85,111,322 $176,948
Baylor $106,078,643 $106,078,643 $0
Oregon $85,823,502 $83,701,926 $2,121,576
Florida $130,772,416 $130,772,416 $0
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