NCAA President Mark Emmert was at Utah State University last week and got grilled by students about where all the money goes. Most of what he told them are the same bullet points he’s been spewing forever – only a handful of athletic departments make money (22 in 2015, he says); only two sports earn money (football and men’s basketball) – but then he dropped this figure, which was was new to me. Via the Utah State Statesman:
"“Women’s basketball loses 14 million by itself,” Emmert said. “Once you get done splitting the money up, there isn’t much left. We can’t tell someone how much to pay a coach. We can’t tell them how to use the money they get.”"
The obvious comparison here is the WNBA and the NBA. Several years after the WNBA was founded, it was hemorrhaging money, and reports say the NBA needed to spend an estimated $10 million a year helping keep the league afloat. Now, 15+ years in, the WNBA is doing much better – six of 12 teams in 2013 were profitable, according to the LA Times – and has a TV deal with ESPN.
But women’s college basketball has been fairly popular since Pat Summitt began doing big things at Tennessee in the 1980s (two titles, four straight Final Four trips) and Geno Auriemma turned Connecticut into a power in the early 90s (five straight Elite 8 trips, one title). Several conferences have TV deals (ESPN, Fox Sports 1, etc) and the NCAA Tournament is televised.
So are schools close to turning a profit?
Reporter Kristi Dosh provided some financial numbers from over a dozen schools to Swish Appeal back in 2012, and they all were losing six or seven figures a year. Dosh also noted that a mostly overlooked aspect to the financial problems in women’s basketball is (lack of) donations from boosters. SEC schools like Alabama can generate millions from boosters for their football programs. Women’s basketball? Dosh says closer to zero.
The real question is how long will college football and men’s college basketball continue to prop up the rest of the college sports. As the ‘pay the revenue-generating athletes’ chorus grows louder, scrutiny will come to the rest of the sports that are paid for by the Big Two. Title IX was passed over 40 years ago, before the money started flowing into college football and the NCAA Tournament became the biggest financial draw in college sports.
The worst part of all this? Mark Emmert has never offered a solution to this. Isn’t that his full time job? To run the NCAA, and figure out problems like this?