A Game Change: Paying for Big-Time College Sports

The following article by Karen Weaver was published in Change magazine in its January-February 2011 issue. Weaver is the director of athletics, intramurals, and recreation at Penn State Abington. The complete article can be accessed here.

“College presidents often think of athletics as the “front porch” of their campuses. After all, name recognition goes a long way when attracting students, right? And a winning football team doesn’t hurt either!

In order to generate the revenues needed to build both and support a winning football team, athletics departments have historically focused on ticket sales, game programs, and advertising revenues. For a long time, an annual incremental increase was all that was needed to keep up with the rising costs of salaries and scholarships.

But as athletic departments began to increase coaching salaries and replace, repair, and update aging stadiums with ones designed to deliver more revenues and a better fan experience, budgets have been seriously stressed. The pressure has been on to generate new revenue streams. This article will describe why that pressure has become so intense and trace those streams back to their origins in order to determine who pays for college sports — and at what cost.

The Big Ten

Leading the way in the last decade in generating new revenue for cash-strapped campuses has been the Big Ten Conference, which in August 2007 launched a cable television venture called the “Big Ten Network.” Despite the fact that the Conference’s football dominance has lagged behind that of the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12, the Network recently announced that it had turned a profit in the second quarter of 2009, less than two years later. And no wonder: The network is now seen in nearly 90 million homes and recently struck a deal to allow international fans to log on and watch their favorite schools and teams compete.

The recruiting advantages of such exposure are obvious: Coaches can say to their recruits, “Come to the Big Ten, where your family can watch you play on television.” No other conference has yet provided this sort of spotlight for all its teams.

But the main motive is financial….”

The remainder of the article can be accessed here.