College Sports Programs with the Highest Revenues

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 19, 2018

College Sports Programs with the Highest Revenues

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    College sports are a business. Not every athletic department is profitable, but the programs that earned the most revenue in 2017 could buy a few massive private islands.

    Or pay their players, but that's a different story.

    USA Today compiled a list detailing the total revenue for each public Division I institution, and the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics database provides exact figures for sports.

    While the SEC accounts for six of the 10 highest revenues, the Big Ten and Big 12 landed two programs apiece.


    Note: Among other private institutions, Notre Dame is not required to release revenue and expense data. While possible, it is unclear whether Notre Dame would hold a top-10 spot.

10. Auburn Tigers

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    Within the SEC, Auburn is in the middle. The school brought in $147.5 million, a shade north of $5 million above the 13-team average. (Vanderbilt, a private institution, is excluded.)

    Not bad for the 10th-highest revenue stream in Division I.

    Based on past data, football annually is responsible for about 75 percent of that total. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the gridiron attraction grossed $91.6 million.

9. LSU Tigers

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    From Auburn to Baton Rouge, we're sticking with Tigers from the SEC.

    LSU posted a total revenue of $147.7 million. In case you're curious about the exact dollar amount over Auburn's $147.5 million, it's $233,199. Bragging rights! Take that, Auburn!

    Forbes lists LSU's three-year average of football revenue at $112 million, with annual profits of $56 million. If Ed Orgeron puts the proud program on a championship track, those numbers may even increase.

8. Florida Gators

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    During the eight years following Urban Meyer's departure, Florida has mustered only two double-digit-win seasons. That hasn't stopped the support of the football team.

    Of the athletic department's $149.2 million in total revenue, over half is connected to football.

    Additionally, UF has the benefit of a strong basketball program. Business Insider's three-year average credits the men's team on the hardwood for attracting $12.6 million per year, and the U.S. Department of Education shows $14.2 million last year.

7. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Thanks to Bob Stoops' successful tenure, the Big 12 powerhouse is annually a top earner. And with an apparently seamless transition to Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma should remain one.

    The university hauled in $155.2 million of revenue, including $95.9 million specifically linked to the football team, per the U.S. Department of Education. Men's basketball notched $13.2 million, and women's basketball added $3.7 million.

    After tallying the $37.5 million of additional income, it makes Oklahoma the second-highest earner in the Big 12.

6. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Both on the revenue chart and football field, Georgia is rising.

    After ranking No. 15 nationally in 2017, the university has climbed to sixth. Georgia collected $157.9 million in revenue, and the $34 million surge wasn't a coincidence. Second-year coach Kirby Smart led the Bulldogs to an SEC crown and College Football Playoff berth in 2017.

    The U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics assigned $93.3 million of revenue to football and $9.5 million to men's basketball.

5. Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    You might not believe this, but Alabama's super-successful football program has made the university a bunch of money.

    In 2017, the athletic department's revenue was $174.3 million. Michael Casagrande of reported the football team accounted for $108.2 million of that total and profited $45.9 million. The Crimson Tide men's basketball provided $14.8 million of revenue, while the women's team added a further $3.0 million.

    According to USA Today, the school paid Nick Saban $11.1 million in 2017. And he's worth every penny.

4. Michigan Wolverines

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    No matter whether Michigan is thriving or surviving, the Big House will be full. Though the streak is sometimes challenged for its veracity, the school's claim of consecutive football games with 100,000-plus in attendance reached 280 in 2018.

    Prett-ay, prett-ay good.

    The university reported $185.2 million of total revenue, including $72.4 million from rights and licensing and $55.3 million in ticket sales. Each of those numbers is the most in school history.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Less than a quarter-million dollars separates the Big Ten rivals on the ledger, but Ohio State has the upper hand over Michigan.

    Perhaps that's fitting, considering the Buckeyes own 13 of the last 14 victories in the football series. Regardless, their $185,409,602 clips Michigan's revenue mark by $236,415.

    Among the 10 programs highlighted on this list, Ohio State also boasts the most valuable basketball team. Business Insider recently pegged the Buckeyes at No. 12 overall.

2. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Sam Craft/Associated Press

    Win or lose―and there's been a fair bit of losing recentlyTexas A&M fans and alumni have continued to support their Aggies.

    However, not only did Texas A&M secure nearly $212 million in revenue, the school's expenses are listed at $146.5 million. The reported $67.4 million of profit is unmatched.

    While there's a legitimate question of whether support will dip after renovations to Kyle Field, if Jimbo Fisher makes the Aggies an SEC contender, the money will be there.

1. Texas Longhorns

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    Surprise, surprise; Texas is near or atop the revenue rankings.

    The athletic department brought in $214.8 million and nearly used it all, totaling $207.0 million of expenses. Texas spent school records of $64.4 million on coaching staffs and $43.2 on facilities.

    One significant factor in the university's revenue stream is its partnership with ESPN for the Longhorn Network. The unique deal is worth $300 million over 20 years.

    Imagine how much money Texas could deposit if the football team wins 10 games for the first time since 2009.


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