Americans Love the Little Guy, Too: How the Chattanoogas Win the Money Games

Michael CollinsAnalyst IOctober 1, 2008



Americans love winners.  We can’t get enough of their games on TV or tickets to home games.  We love boasting, especially the arguing.  We have school pride. A writer may even rank her Top Ten Most Delusional fan bases from Alabama to Texas (alphabetically).  Whatever. 


Major college football has heard us.  To accommodate our ticket demands, our favorite teams play seven home and five away games. In one or two games, a lamb, aka non-BCS or FCS team, is led to the slaughter to the delight of the home coliseum crowd. 


Rarely do we think someone else has to play five home and seven away games. 


These poor slobs like Tennessee-Chattanooga, Tennessee-Martin, Troy, Louisiana-Monroe, Western Kentucky travel across the country to get beat by us by more than five touchdowns. 


They’re such losers, hoping to be the next Appalachian State. They leave town beaten, sore, humbled, put in their place, and a notch on our records towards another bowl invitation. 


Large (BCS) college football stadiums will take in $4 million-$5 million for each game.  Total profits from ’06-’07 bowls totaled $147 million.  BCS conferences rake in at least 85 percent of all those bowl profits.


Ticket price increases bring in more revenue.  Conference TV revenue adds to athletic budgets. When state legislatures have to cut university budgets due to shortfalls, major universities like Tennessee will be much less impacted than Chattanooga or Tenn-Martin.


Tennessee legislatures have already passed along the cuts.  University presidents and athletic directors decide on cutting university jobs and/or athletic programs. 


A pretty one-sided deal for the nobodies, right?  Beat up and beat down.  Boxed in with no place to go for the small schools?  No access to the big money and at the chopping block when the cuts are handed down.  Not so fast, my friend.



The Chattanooga Mocs were demolished by Oklahoma and Florida State by a combined score of 103-9.  Mocs players smiled. Their compensation is a new locker room: a pretty nice one at that. 

“The old locker room wasn’t anything special,” said Mocs wide receiver Blue Cooper.  “It wasn’t anything to compare to what we saw on away trips, and those were the visitors locker rooms.” 

The new locker room will have more than fresh paint and new lockers: five flat-screen televisions, three computers, and a spacious lounge/living area.  The coaches will get a new video-editing system and new headsets. 

All this will cost about $100,000 from the combined $935,000 the Mocs will get for playing money games (also termed “body bag games” by BCS schools) against the Sooners and the Seminoles.   

Louisiana State, who is contending for the national title, plays eight home games this year, including three Sun Belt teams and an FCS team.

The Tigers will pay the four non-conference teams (Tulane, Appalachian State, Troy and North Texas) $2.85 million, which is $750,000 to each team except nearby Tulane, which got $260,000.  Sweet. 

These smaller school athletic accountants know that LSU and the other SEC teams received $9 million-10 million disbursement from the SEC last year in addition to individual home game money, athletic wear sales, etc. 

(Click here for the Total Payouts database from the Des Moines Register) 

For small athletic budgets in these trying times, “money games” have a huge impact.  Troy, in Alabama, has a total athletic budget of $11 million this year.  (FCS Appalachian State has an equivalent athletic budget.) 

The Trojans will receive almost $1.5 million towards that (almost 14 percent of their entire budget) for traveling to LSU and Ohio State.  Fulfilling a home-and-home contract at Oklahoma State brings in less money, $300,000.

Troy’s stadium has a 30,000 capacity.  Troy’s athletic director, Steve Dennis, says the income is “definitely needed.  We rely on it for a lot of our revenue.”

Army, rather than settle for a lesser amount for a home-and-home contract for a game on the Hudson, paid Texas A&M $150,000 last year to play the Cadets’ home game in San Antonio’s AlamoDome.

This year, Army will get $750,000 for playing at Kyle Field, the 31st largest stadium in the world.  That’s Army’s equivalent to a bowl game payout in September.  The Aggies gross $3.5 million for a home game, which will increase to $5 million with stadium expansion. 



The Squeeze  


In negotiations, when the other guy is squealing, you know you are getting close to the most you can get.  Texas A&M's scheduling director, John Thornton, says, "It's absolutely amazing.  We understand why they're doing it because they have an opportunity to make a large part of their (athletic department) budget.  But at the same time, it's mind-boggling to think how a decade ago these games cost around $200,000."


A&M says the asking price is now $1 million by some for games next year.  “They’re asking.  But we’re not paying.”


UCLA’s athletic director wondered which was worse: escalating salaries or the escalating price of scheduling teams for home games.  Latest available figures showed UCLA’s payouts to visiting teams exceeded salaries. 


For UCLA, salaries and payouts amount to 27 percent of their football budget.  The lingering California economic crunch looms in the background for their recent university financial decision-making. 


(Click here for UCLA's and other NCAA schools' athletic department budgets from the Indianapolis Star.)


Some non-BCS schools have higher goals than surviving their budgets this year.  Akron is building a $54 million on-campus stadium for a football program that lost $3 million last year. 


Florida Atlantic expects to gross $5 million per home game when their stadium expansion is completed.  Down the road, such facilities in more urban areas will attract BCS conference expansion. 




Who Profited Most?


Which non-BCS conferences are profiting the most from BCS non-conference games?   The twelve Conference USA schools will get revenues of $4.316 million.


UAB ($1.4 million) and Tulane ($1.15 million) will take in most of that, while Tulsa will make $700,000. 


Three (UTEP, East Carolina, Houston) have negative profits and one (Memphis) was even.  Most of the others schools took profits of $200,000-$300,000.  The average team income is almost $360,000.  Decent. 


The 13 MAC schools have payouts totaling $4.71 million.  Two schools (Temple, Ball State) are in the negative column (more payout than revenue from games) and one school (Kent State) is even.  


Central Michigan will profit $1.025 million.  Akron will bank $950,000 towards their new stadium.  Ohio will take in $885,000.  Most of the other eight schools cluster from between $350,000 to $850,000.  Discounting those that lost money or were even, the average income was $500,000 per school.  Yum.


Sun Belt athletic departments could be renamed Money Belt programs.  More than any other conference, the Sun Belt universities have found a way to escape the box of decreasing incomes, increasing costs and no realistic access to BCS bowl bids. 


The eight Sun Belt teams will take in $10.36 million, more than MAC and Conference USA schools combined.  All eight schools will each pocket over $1 million.


Only one (Louisiana-Monroe) will not play seven away games.  Their average revenues for the “money games” is $1.295 million.  Ca-Ching.  That buys a lot of locker rooms or keeps athletic programs afloat.  


The biggest individual winner of the payout wars is independent Western Kentucky at $2.16 million.  The Hilltoppers will officially join the Sun Belt in 2009.  


(For further information see the link above)






So, even if LSU pays its Troy and other non-conference teams almost $3 million, that’s only 4 percent of their profitable football program’s budget of $70 million.  The Tigers can pay Les Miles $3.7 million this year. 


Tiger fans see the difference in competition in ticket prices.  You can buy a Troy ticket for $43 in the East Upper part of the stadium.  The same location for the Georgia game will cost $230.


An area Troy beats LSU?  Graduation rates.  Troy graduates 68 percent of its football players, or 78 percent using the NCAA’s GSR.  LSU graduates 30 percent, or 51 percent using the GSR.


Know how many football programs are profitable?  According to the NCAA's review of the financial status of its D-I programs"only 19 of the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision institutions had positive net revenue, while for the rest, expenses exceeded generated revenues. (For the entire three-year period, only 16 athletics department turned a net profit.)"


To keep the books in the black with rising costs and diminishing outside financial support, universities have increased student fees and provided “direct institutional support,” while increasing ticket prices. 


Institutional support means the universities are funding football programs from their overall budgets.  Those 95 schools whose programs are not self-supporting will see their athletic programs most impacted by budget cuts. 


Accountants aside, how are the players from smaller colleges affected by these “body bag” games?  Chattanooga’s Cooper:  “It’s more of a mindset, I think.  Maybe you get a little swag in your step.  I think this will make us feel like a big-time program.  All we got to do now is win.” 


Americans love the little guy, too.  Sometimes, they win. 



Quotes from Blue Cooper came from John Frierson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press's article, "University of Tennessee at Chattanooga gets a facility facelift".


NCAA publication on D-I Revenues and Expenses from 2004-06 -


Quotes from John Thornton came from Randy Riggs of American-Statesman Staff article, "The Cost of Luring Non-Conference Games on the Rise"


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