When Does College Football Make Money?

Most teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision struggle to make a profit.

By Michael MarksJune 22, 2017 7:33 am, ,

Eight public universities in Texas play in the Football Bowl Subdivision, which is considered the big leagues, or the highest level of competition for the sport. But winning isn’t all about scores. A new app from The Texas Tribune breaks down each school’s expenditures and revenue to show the outflow of money through the schools’ athletic programs. Among the universities two groups stand out: the haves and the have-nots.

“It’s a pretty simple answer,” The Texas Tribune’s higher education reporter Matthew Watkins says. “UT and Texas A&M are making money and pretty much everyone else is losing money.”

The data in the app called Ball Park Figures shows that schools like Texas Tech lie in the middle of the pack, barely breaking even when it comes to making money off their football teams. Texas Tech benefits from being part of the Big 12 Conference, Watkins says.

This leaves the rest of the Texas teams playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision struggling to make a profit and relying on subsidies to support them. They include Texas Tech, the University of Houston, the University of Texas at El Paso, the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“They don’t have the big television contracts through their conferences,” Watkins says. “They maybe don’t fill the stadiums the same way.”

The University of Houston is capitalizing on its strong performance in past seasons as a reason to be included in the Big 12 Conference. With membership would come a televised sports deal, which would be a “moneymaker” for the team, Watkins says.

“We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars each year,” he says.

Teams outside of the Big 12 also don’t get to play the more popular teams that drive more stadium traffic.

For schools that aren’t turning a profit off their football programs, they make up the difference by tapping two sources: institutional transfers, which come from the universities’ budgets, and student fees.

At a time when students are dealing with ever-rising debt burdens, the case is becoming difficult to make for subsidizing expensive football programs.

“You hear this a lot – that the athletics program is the front porch of the university,” Watkins says.

Universities argue that academic programs benefit by way of alumni and the general public’s support of college sports. However, Watkins says that teams at the top of the conference will continue to make more money while others languish as they draw the least benefit from their athletic programs.


Written by Louise Rodriguez.