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The Saturday Subsidy: SEC Football Teams Keep College Athletics Afloat

October 3, 2012
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It’s no surprise that SEC universities love their football, spending tens of millions of dollars on recruiting, coaching salaries, facilities and more. Other programs’ coaches and athletes have complained that football gets outsize attention and money; the football programs often counter that they generate enough revenue to subsidize other, less lucrative sports.

In the SEC, at least, the football programs have it. At 13* of the 14 member universities, the athletics programs sans pigskin would have lost money in the 2010-2011 year. But with the revenue earned from football, the team can pay for its expenses with enough left over to cover the athletics department’s losses with room to spare.

Here is the athletic department’s profit, with and without football, at the 13 SEC universities whose football teams subsidize the rest of the department, from the most lucrative football team to the least.

SEC teams that subsidized athletic programs in 2010-2011

University State Football Profit Athletic Department Profit
Without Football
Athletic Department Profit
With Football
University of Georgia GA $52,851,837 -$43,276,268 $9,575,569
LSU LA $47,017,400 -$36,615,418 $10,401,982
University of Florida FL $46,543,697 -$36,487,096 $10,056,601
University of Alabama AL $45,221,741 -$13,536,869 $31,684,872
University of Tennessee TN $37,695,864 -$37,681,417 $14,447
Auburn AL $37,158,128 -$33,673,471 $3,484,657
University of Arkansas AR $37,072,514 -$25,786,891 $11,285,623
Texas A&M† TX $29,853,858 -$26,629,429 $3,224,429
University of South Carolina SC $22,981,579 -$22,218,853 $762,726
University of Kentucky KY $19,668,166 -$16,545,492 $3,122,674
Mississippi State University MS $10,809,961 -$4,503,378 $6,306,583
Vanderbilt TN $5,947,113 -$179,570 $5,767,543
Mizzou† MO $3,888,029 -$3,744,441 $143,588

*The only SEC member left out, Ole Miss, broke even in 2010-2011. The football team’s profit of $10,751,297 just covered their expenses, leaving them with a $0 profit.
†Texas A&M and Missouri joined the SEC in 2012, so these figures are from when they played in the Big 12.

Methodology

NerdWallet used data reported by the universities themselves to the Department of Education. Figures are for the 2010-2011 season, spanning July 1st, 2010 to June 30th, 2011. Expenses include coaching salaries, recruiting expenses, operating expenses and “not allocated” expenses. There’s a very real possibility that this method of accounting understates the value of a football team, because it does not include, for example, donations from alumni whose school spirit was boosted by a bowl game win.