The phrase "a rising tide lifts all boats" has never had a more practical application than in today's college sports landscape. What began with the Big Ten Network's launch in 2007 and has continued with the Pac-12 Networks, the Longhorn Network and the upcoming college football playoff and SEC network, the sport's leaders collectively realized that college football was an undervalued television property. Fans tuned-in in droves to see their favorite teams play, and in turn, revenue has jumped for almost all schools that comprise BCS conferences.
As reported by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Postsecondary Education, Texas led all schools with total athletic revenue of $163.3 million in the 2011-12 academic year. Ohio State ($142 million), Michigan ($128.8 million), Alabama ($124.1 million) and LSU ($114 million) rounded out the top five.
In all, 11 schools (five SEC, four Big Ten and two Big 12) raked in more than $100 million. Three additional schools, Arkansas, Iowa and Notre Dame, came within $3 million of reaching the $100 million plateau. As recently as five years ago, only Texas, Florida and Ohio State topped $100 million.
In 2007-08, 15 schools reported income in excess of $80 million. Last year, that number jumped to 27 schools. Five years ago, Arizona checked in as the 50th-richest program with a revenue of just under $47 million. In 2011-12, Maryland placed at No. 50 with $62.6 million in revenue. So the numbers are increasing across the BCS landscape.
But as Jon Solomon of AL.com reports, schools at the top end of the respective conferences are seeing revenue grow faster than their lower-end peers.
"In 2007-08, Texas made $81.7 million more than Iowa State, the poorest Big 12 school. The Longhorns' margin over Iowa State was $108.1 million last year," Solomon writes. "The gap between the wealthiest SEC school and the poorest SEC school increased on average by $1.1 million per year between 2007-08 and 2011-12. In the Big Ten, the gap between first and last increased by $920,000 a year."
The revenue explosion is only going to continue with the forthcoming college football playoff (which ESPN will pay close to half a billion dollars annually to televise) new deals for the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl (worth a total of $80 million a year) and Orange Bowl ($55 million a year).
As has been discussed many times in this space and elsewhere, rising revenues are a double-edged sword for college football programs. Colleges will continue to pour more money into facilities, salaries and recruiting budgets. But with more money brings more expectations and shorter leashes on struggling programs.