Having been a Division 1 college athlete myself in a non-revenue generating sport (men’s soccer), I have an inherent respect for those collegiate sports that are able to generate revenue and consequently support the rest of the school’s athletic department. The only two collegiate sports that produce any sort of revenue, traditionally, are men’s basketball and football. Moreover, the biggest athletic programs among universities in the US are those that can create significant revenue in both of those sports.

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) dominates the top 5 of highest grossing revenue collegiate athletic programs, with Florida at #5, Georgia at #4, Auburn at #3, and Alabama at #2 (all ranging in the $80 million figures). The highest money making program in collegiate athletics comes out of the Big 12 conference, and that is the University of Texas with a combination of $96 million coming from their football program and another $16 million coming from their man’s basketball program for a total of $112 million in total revenue.

The University of Texas is the highest revenue generating collegiate athletic department.
The University of Texas is the highest revenue generating collegiate athletic department.

The concept of supply and demand could not be any better illustrated in these two revenue generating college sports. People across the country; whether it’s the students themselves, proud alumni, or simply fans of the teams, love college football and college basketball. “March Madness” and “Bowl Season” have become multi-billion dollar events via sponsorship deals, media right deals, and ticket sales (among various other things). Head Coaches contracts are in the multi-million dollar range, with Urban Meyer being the highest paid college football coach at $5.8 million/year and John Calipari holding the title as the highest paid men’s college basketball coach at $6.4 million a year.

John Calipari is the highest earning men's college basketball coach at $5.8 million a year.
John Calipari is the highest earning men’s college basketball coach at $5.8 million a year.

College education in general has become more of a business in the recent decades. Tuition has risen to the point where you are looking at a quarter of a million dollars to go through college at any top college or university. Similarly, the rate at which college athletic departments have been both generating and spending dollars has dramatically increased.

The NCAA has had to play a more intensive role in their role of regulating athletes, conferences, and institutions. The Power 5 college football conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-12 and the SEC) have all endorsed the proposal to the NCAA to be able to pass legislation without the support of other Division 1 conferences. Those conferences have endorsed changes that would increase benefits to student-athletes:

  • Funding athletic scholarships that would cover the full cost of tuition
  • Guaranteeing multiyear scholarships for athletes
  • Lifetime scholarship guarantees that would allow former athletes to return to school at any time and complete their degrees
  • Providing long term health care and insurance to former athletes.

As they say, “the rich get richer” … and in this case it is creating a power imbalance in college athletics. The parity of college athletics has decreased over the years as the business, so to speak, has increased. And yet, in my opinion, the passion and fervor for college athletics has maintained its course, which is ultimately what makes college athletics so special.