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What can we learn from the NCAA Finance report?

Some fun accounting seems to be at play here.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Oregon Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

USA Today posted a sprawling spreadsheet of NCAA schools reported revenue and expenses from the past year. It’s neat! Texas A&M pulled in more than $190,000,000 this past year in revenue, which is enough for at least a sandwich and a pop.

There’s a lot to digest and not a lot of context provided to interpret these numbers. But there are a few interesting tidbits we can glean from this.

The rich mid-majors are who we thought they were

Hey, big surprise, FBS football pumps in a huge amount of money! Conferences like the Mountain West, MAC, and the Sun Belt (and A-10 basketball, MAC football school UMass) easily outpace conferences whose member institutions aren’t playing football at the highest level. The CAA and Atlantic 10 are the wealthiest of the non-FBS conferences, but the clearest indicator of how profitable a conference will be is how many FBS programs it has.

Likewise, the poor athletic departments are unsurprising. Eight of the bottom ten teams in reported revenue play in the SWAC or the MEAC. The Big South is similarly low on the rankings.

For as great as basketball is, it isn’t the revenue engine that football is, and it never will be. When conference realignment comes back to the power conferences, make no mistake, basketball will not be on the front of the athletic directors’ minds.

No private schools are listed

Private schools are not bound by the federal regulations that public institutions are, so there’s a good chance your favorite team isn’t on here. WCC big boys Gonzaga and St. Mary’s are missing, as is virtually the entire Patriot League, and a good number of CAA schools too. For those who want to point out Gonzaga’s (presumably) massive expenditures compared to the rest of the WCC, sorry, but you’re out of luck.

Fudging with numbers is fun!

Alright, here’s the big issue with this document: it’s way fuzzier than the clean spreadsheet would have you believe.

Take, for example, Oregon. Oregon is an FBS powerhouse (pay no attention to last year) in the relatively wealthy Pac-12, went to a Final Four in basketball, and receives untold treasure chests from Nike. Unsurprisingly, that leads to a reported revenue of more than $110,000,000. Oregon also unquestionably has a lot of expenditures. They have a bunch of coaches to pay, even more staff members to pay, tons of facilities to upkeep and on and on. They report a yearly expenditure of over $110,000,000. Their profit, best we can tell from subtracting their expenses from their revenue, is $1,498,487.

Chicago State, that of the WAC conference that struggles to stay solvent as a university due to incredible financial hardships, reports revenue of $1,994,563.

You tell me if that makes sense.

Deadspin published a good piece about how schools reporting of scholarship costs unjustly boosts the expenditures of an athletic department. There’s a lot of that kind of creative accounting that goes on in this kind of report. There’s no way, literally no way, that Oregon is somehow less profitable as an athletic department than Chicago State. Whether it’s television revenue getting slotted in outside of their athletic department’s revenue or otherwise, there’s something funky going on.