The ability of athletic departments to survive and thrive amid the nation's economic downturn rings true within the Big Ten. A closer look at the numbers bears that out.
The Wisconsin athletic department generated huge revenue thanks to large donations.
The collective revenue of Big Ten programs in the past six years has increased by nearly 30 percent, just shy of the FBS average of 32 percent during that span. And many of the conference's schools find themselves near the top nationally.
In 2012-13, Wisconsin was No. 2 nationally among public schools in both revenue generated ($149 million) and expenses ($146.7 million). Michigan was No. 4 and No. 3 in the same two categories, generating $143.5 million and spending $131 million, while Ohio State checked in at No. 5 in both, raking in $140 million and spending $116 million.
That $24 million profit for the Buckeyes in 2012-13 put them atop the national list, but it's actually the rival Wolverines who have ended up with far and away the most money among their conference peers during the past six years. Using the analysis from "Outside The Lines" earlier this month, Michigan has netted a total profit of $90,243,483 from 2007-08 to 2012-13. That's an average annual profit of more than $15 million, nearly double the amount of the next-closest Big Ten school, Penn State, which netted an annual average of more than $8.8 million, slightly more than Ohio State ($8.755 million)
The money, of course, comes from more than simple ticket sales or conference payouts for bowl games and NCAA tournaments. Wisconsin's big financial windfall last year was thanks in large part to nearly $59 million in contributions and donations, more than $10 million clear of anyone else nationally. It's a big reason why the Badgers' one-year revenue increased by more than $45 million from 2011-12 to 2012-13, from 11th nationally to second nationally. Their surplus, however, was just $2.48 million, more than a $1 million less than the $3.78 million they made in 2010, with much less revenue ($96 million).
And where that money goes is now more widespread than ever.
"I think it was about 2000, our budget was right around $25 million and today it's $94 million," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "And it's real easy to take a quick look on where the allocation of those funds have gone, and so much of it — there is the coaching salary component that kind of stands out. But there's a much larger chunk that has gone to escalation of scholarships and services provided.
"When I was a basketball manager … I know how those student-athletes were treated, and I know how student-athletes today have opportunities from travel, where they stay, how they travel, where they eat, what they eat, how often they eat, what medical services, psychological services, strength and training. We've really become a specialized industry where we have people on our staff that provide the smallest component of service to a student-athlete. It used to be a coach and a trainer kind of handled everything. Well now there's somebody to teach you how to cook, there's somebody on some campuses that do the cooking, that show you how to shop. It's incredible, the opportunities that student-athletes have on those campuses, provided that they take it. That comes with a very high cost."
The Big Ten's Eastern-most schools, meanwhile, have been among the league's smallest money-makers as of late. Penn State had been the Big Ten's first- or second-most profitable program for four straight years before 2012, when it saw its profits dip to $863,023 from more than $14 million the year before. In 2013, the Nittany Lions lost $5,985,736 — a likely byproduct of the turmoil caused by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Conference newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, were the only league members to average less than $1 million per year in profit.
The NCAA legislative council's voting in April to eliminate all previous restrictions on food for athletes could present one more opportunity for athletic departments in their ever-growing arms race. The idea of food-only facility is intriguing to Iowa athletic director Gary Barta.
"We don't have to count snacks or meals, so we can open that up," Barta said. "And so in the short-run that's definitely a part of our plan, and long-run we'll look at taking the current center that we have and maybe moving it and creating a bigger one."
With members of the Big Ten and the other four power-five conferences furthering their push for autonomy, the reins on the estate may only tighten, with spending likely to increase.
"I'm biased, but I think it's the best-run conference in the country, from a business and a financial standpoint," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "And so we're going to hopefully have some advantages as we go forward, and what we want to do with this autonomy is be able to spend it on our student-athletes. And be smart."