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(Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports)
(Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports)

The Finances Behind Conference Realignment

Next year's conference realignments will bring many changes. Obviously, the action on the field is affected the most, as many longstanding rivalries will cease and new squareoffs will begin elsewhere. Not to be overshadowed though, the financial side of these seismic events cnnot be ignored.

Each public university reveals their expenses and revenues every academic year. They also display the origins of their revenue. So, let us take a look at the revenues of schools leaving for another conference, and what their transition could mean for teams and conferences alike. 

Before we examine program revenues, here is a look at the conferences’ revenues. Amongst Power 5 conferences, the SEC is first with $2,168,587,358, the Big Ten is second with $2,041,265,014, the Pac-12 is third with $1,144,504,032, the ACC is fourth with $1,071,884,526, and the Big 12 is fifth with $1,066,493,140. 

Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC

We start off with the first announced transition with Texas and Oklahoma, who go from the Power 5 conference with the least revenue to the most starting next year. 

Looking at revenue, the Longhorns have the highest amongst teams in the Big 12, and one of the highest in the country, with $239.29 million. Of that revenue, 18% comes from NCAA/Conference Distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 24% from ticket sales, 33% from donor contributions, 19% from corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 7% from other revenue, and <1% from competition guarantees. 

The Sooners have the second highest revenue in the Big 12, with $177.32 million. 28% of it comes from NCAA/Conference Distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 26% from on ticket sales, 24% from donor contributions, 11% from corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 9% from other revenue, and 1% from competition guarantees. 

Texas and Oklahoma have been the Big 12’s stalwarts not just in college football, but also in finances. The team with the third highest revenue in the conference is Kansas, who has $118 million. This means the other 8 teams listed have revenue at least $60 million less than Oklahoma and $110 million less than Texas (Baylor and TCU do not publicly list revenues as private schools).

In other words, Texas and Oklahoma leaving means less opportunities for the Big 12. While they added four more programs in their stead, the conference may not be able to draw big name players, especially in this NIL era. Plus, knowing that Big 12 teams would be unable to face these financial and college football giants could also detract players away from the conference. 

That revenue will continue to grow for Texas and Oklahoma, as the SEC will make $300 million a year from their media deal, while the Big 12 only makes $220 million. 

In going to the SEC, Texas will likely have the highest revenue in the conference, taking the throne from Alabama, whose revenue is $214,365,357. While the Longhorns and Crimson Tide have established a budding rivalry on the gridiron, they may also establish one with money in hopes of having the most revenue, especially with donor contributions and corporate sponsorships. 

The SEC’s slogan “it just means more” applies to finances as well. When Oklahoma joins the conference, it will have the sixth highest revenue behind Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, and Florida in that order. 

The Sooners would also be one of the four teams in the SEC with higher expenses than revenue. Those other teams are Tennessee, South Carolina, and Ole Miss. But the difference for the Sooners is around $5 million, which could turn into a profit with the increased media rights deal and conference distributions. 

USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington to the Big Ten

On to the next transition, which sends four Pac-12 stalwarts to the Big Ten. This includes Oregon and Washington, who have the highest revenues in the Pac-12, along with USC (private) and UCLA, who is towards the bottom. 

Oregon has a revenue of $153.51 million. 27% consists of NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 26% donor contributions, 16% ticket sales, 14% corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 14% other, and 2% competition guarantees.

Washington has a revenue of $145.18 million. 28% comes from NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 26% from donor contributions, 16% ticket sales, 14% corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 14% other, and 2% competition guarantees.

UCLA has a revenue of $103.06 million. 28% is from NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 20% is from ticket sales, 19% is from donor contributions, 14% is from corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 10% is from government support, 8% is from other revenue sources, and 1% is from competition guarantees. 

Moving into their time in the Big Ten, where the only private school is Northwestern, UCLA would have the lowest revenue. However, most teams toward the bottom have media rights making up at least 40% of their revenue. 

So, UCLA’s revenue could increase with the Big Ten’s new media rights deal, which would lead to the conference receiving $1 billion a year. The Pac-12’s current media rights deal has the conference receiving $250 million a year. 

Once the transition is made, Oregon would have the sixth highest revenue in the conference, while Washington would have the ninth highest. It will be interesting to see if Oregon and Washington, who are currently in the Top 10 in the AP Poll, can eventually catch up to the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State, who hold a strong financial advantage over the newcomers. 

There are some similarities between the newcomers and some current Big Ten teams based on money situations that could also be the case on the gridiron. Rutgers and Maryland are the only teams currently in the Big Ten that do not make a profit from their revenue (i.e. revenue < expenses). Oregon and Washington would join this category. 

Rutgers has around $29 million more expenses than revenue, similar to UCLA who has around $28 million. Knowing that Rutgers only has one winning season since joining the Big Ten, UCLA could be heading for a similar fate, because of their debt and lack of revenue. 

Maryland’s expenses are $6.86 million more than its revenue, which is close to Washington’s $4.28 million. While Maryland started off this year 5-0 and have registered winning seasons the past two years, they have yet to break into Big Ten contention in a stacked East division. Washington, although they would be in the West, could face the same ordeal: playing good, but not good enough to win the conference and add to their revenue. 

Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State to the Big 12

Continuing with the Pac-12 schools, the four teams from the four corner states will go to what is currently the Power 5 conference with the least amount of revenue: the Big 12. 

All of these teams reside towards the middle of the pack when it comes to revenue amongst conference teams. Arizona State has the third highest revenue to the Big 12 in 2022, with Arizona right behind their in-state rival. Utah has the fifth lowest, while Colorado has the third lowest. 

The Buffaloes’ revenue is $94.87 million, which consists of 39% NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 20% ticket sales, 14% donor contributions,11% institutional/government support, 8% other revenue, 6% corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, and 2% student fees. 

While Colorado has the third-lowest revenue in the conference, this number (and all numbers listed in this article) is from 2022. It was only announced on December 3 of that year that Deion Sanders would be coaching the team. Since then, there has been an influx in ticket sales and possibly in donor contributions. 

Utah’s revenue is higher, sitting at $115.72 million. 38% of it consists of NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 13% ticket sales, 25% donor contributions, 6% institutional/government support, 7% corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 5% student fees, 4% other revenue, and 1% competition guarantees. 

Arizona State’s revenue is $121.08 million. 33% comes from NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 13% ticket sales, 25% donor contributions, 6% institutional/government support, 7% corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 10% student fees, 4% other revenue, and 1% competition guarantees.

Arizona’s revenue is at $124.35 million. 29% of the revenue comes from NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 15% ticket sales, 22% institutional/government support, 16% donor contributions, 8% corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 6% other revenue, 3% student fees, 1% competition guarantees. 

The four will be gifted with a more lucrative media rights deal in the Big 12, that is $2.3 billion over six years. Every team that will be in the Big 12 next year and did not come from this year’s merger (i.e. BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF) have at least 39% of their revenue coming from NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football. 

Before joining the Big 12, UC, UCF, and Houston all had below $90 million in revenue before joining the Big 12. All three programs relied more heavily on institutional and government support than their current in-conference opponents, with Houston being the highest at 50%. Once the 2023 numbers are released, we will be able to see how much revenue increased after their transition. 

Based on 2022 numbers, Colorado would have the least amount of revenue amongst teams that did not join the conference this year. But ASU and Arizona would have the first and second highest revenue respectively. 

But, both schools from State 48 have at least 16% of help from the university through student fees and the government. On the contrary, Oklahoma State is the only non-merger school in the Big 12 with more than 10% of revenue coming from the institutions and government, and the highest percentage of revenues consisting of student fees is 3%. 

With these differences, the government and universities lower their help to the Sun Devils and Wildcats, especially because a new media deal could keep their expenses and revenue around the same. If they decide to lower funding, then Arizona State and Arizona would not reign financially supreme in the conference. 

Stanford, Cal, and SMU to the ACC

Despite being in the Bay Area, Stanford and Cal are heading to the ACC in next year’s merger. 

Looking at Cal’s revenue, it is at $118.21 million, with 32% consisting of NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 24% government support, 13% donor contributions, 11% corporate sponsorship, advertising, and licensing, 11% other revenue, 7% ticket sales, and competition guarantees and student fees combined are at 2%.

This move to the ACC provides an interesting adventure for the viewers. Not only do we not know Stanford and SMU’s revenue, because they are private, we do not know six current ACC teams for the same reason. 

Nonetheless, Cal would have the third lowest revenue in the conference ahead of Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. With trips to Corvallis changed to trips to Clemson, the Golden Bears’ expenses will increase, which could decrease their profit. 

Their profit could also decrease because of their agreement with the ACC. The Golden Bears and Cardinal have agreed to give 70% of their shares from the media rights deal for seven years (SMU will forgo all media dollars for nine years). But Cal and Stanford will earn an increasing amount later on, as reported by Front Office Sports. 

To ensure that revenue is still above expenses, these schools would have to look for more donor contributions and investors. For Cal, this could also mean the government and university increasing their support. For example, student fees could see an increase, knowing some of its Pac-12 counterparts have student fees make up 10% of their revenue. 

As they make this transition, it will be interesting to see how Cal, Stanford and SMU can fund the money as they look to be competitive in a bigger and better conference. 

Oregon State and Washington State to…?

Finally, we highlight the most confusing transition. Oregon State and Washington State, who do not know which conference they will be in next year. 

For this article, we will look at the Beavers and Cougars in comparison to Mountain West teams, because of the talks between the teams and conference, whether the Pac-12 poaches those schools, or the Mountain West completes the Pac-12’s collapse. 

Oregon State and Washington State have the lowest revenues amongst Pac-12 teams, with a hefty amount coming from media rights. Washington State has a slight profit margin, while Oregon State has a slight negative profit margin. 

The Cougars’ revenue is $85.03 million. 48% of it comes from NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 17% from institutional/government support, 12% from donor contributions, 11% from ticket sales, 6% corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 5% from other revenue sources, 1% student fees. 

The Beavers’ revenue is $83.48 million. 51% of it comes from NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football, 12% from donor contributions, 11% from ticket sales, 10% from institutional/government support, 10% from corporate sponsorships, advertising, and licensing, 3% from student fees, and 3% from other revenue sources. 

The biggest hit will be on where both schools find the majority of their revenue. Even if the Pac-12 lives on, the media rights will not be as lucrative as it was before, and the NCAA may not give as much money to the Pac-12 knowing that they will not be up to the competition level of the other four conferences.

 Not to mention, the Pac-12 would not be in big bowl games unless one of its teams heads to the College Football Playoff, where an unbeaten Cincinnati became the only non-Power 5 team participating in a conference to make the tournament in 2021. 

Looking at the Mountain West teams, each one gets at least 24% of their revenue from institutional/government support, with eight programs getting at least 35% of revenue from that category. Each team also has NCAA/conference distributions, media rights, and postseason football making up less than 20% of their revenue. 

With Oregon State and Washington State having the highest amount of revenue amongst Mountain West teams, they also have the highest amount of expenses. The teams will need an increase of help from their respective universities and government to be able to pay coaches and admin, update facilities, give student aid, and pay for travel expenses. All of which make up at least 10% of expenses. 

If both teams do not find a conference after a possible two-year grace period, they could become independent. While there are many successful independent programs like Notre Dame, Army, and New Mexico State, they receive substantial help from outside sources. For Notre Dame, that would be from donors and university benefactors as well as their own exclusive media rights deal. For Army and New Mexico State, that would be from the government. 

But neither Army nor New Mexico State has revenue and expenses as high as Oregon State and Washington State. Regardless of where they end up, the Beavers and Cougars would need institutional/government support to skyrocket in order to hold their financial, and possibly, athletic standards. 


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