Dollar Bulls

Deciphering who gets what in the athletic department

On February 17, 2013

College athletics is big money. Huge money. Even schools like UB, which take on the daunting task of competing with powerhouses like the University of Florida and University of Texas, try to build a brand and turn a profit through athletics.

Texas has become one of the most successful college athletics programs in the country with a commitment to every single sport.

"Whatever we do, we want to do it well," said Texas Athletic Director Deloss Dodds in a USA Today article. "Whatever sport we have, we want it totally funded - I mean totally funded. We want it to be the right experience for every youngster on all of our teams. Whether it be travel or housing or whatever it is, we want it to be first class."

While schools with huge operating revenues can afford to fully fund a large number of sports, some smaller schools can afford to fund only a handful.

Buffalo falls somewhere between those categories. The Bulls have the money to fully support the biggest teams on campus (i.e. football and basketball) but after that, other teams are awarded money from the school with inconsistency. Teams with more wins don't necessarily get more money, and teams with more members don't necessarily get more money, either.

Although the Bulls do not have the athletic budget of Florida (in the 2010-11 academic year, Florida's football team made $72.8 million by itself, while Buffalo's whole athletic department made $26 million in 2011-12), they are still making a profit.

Student fees account for a large fraction of money dispersed amongst Buffalo's athletic teams. The fees accounted for $7.8 million of the total athletic budget revenue in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years.

Buffalo can afford to give the football team first-class accommodations when it travels around the country, chartering planes and reserving whole floors in hotels, but teams like volleyball and wrestling are forced to take 12-hour bus rides to Northern Illinois and the schools in Michigan.

Buffalo does turn a profit athletically, even if just barely. The margin between the Bulls' revenue and expenses in the 2011-12 academic year was $2,000 in the black.

The most obvious measure of many teams' success is on-the-field performance. But which teams get financed the most is not dictated by winning percentages.

In the 2010-11 and 2011-12 years, the football team received the most direct institutional support ($4.9 million combined) and brought in the most revenue ($10.9 million combined), despite posting a 5-19 record.

Part of football's larger revenue comes from ticket sales. The large UB Stadium, which can seat approximately 30,000 fans, gives the team the opportunity to sell more tickets than any other team on campus.

The men's swimming and diving team has posted a first- and second-place finish at the Mid-American Conference championship meet in the last two seasons. Its combined operating revenue from 2010-11 and 2011-12 was $723,779.69.

That's a gap of more than $10 million, though the swim team has been a MAC powerhouse in recent seasons and the football team has struggled to win games.

Similarly, in the 2010 season, the women's soccer team won just one game. Its operating revenue for that season was $662,316. In 2011, the team won 12 games and made it to the second round of the MAC Tournament. Its 2011 operating revenue was $652,517.

The only constants are seemingly that the football and men's basketball teams are on top of these lists. The order in which other teams receive funds from the school varies. In 2010-11, the wrestling team received the third-most funds from the school; in 2011-12, it received the 12th most.

Despite the variance in direct institutional support, the wrestling team's total operating revenue actually jumped from $376,969 to $528,350.

It's easy to say the sports with the most visibility on campus receive the most funds, which would explain why the football and basketball teams are usually near the top, but one of the least visible teams on campus also has one of the highest total operating revenues.

The rowing team received the fourth-most direct institutional support in 2010-11 and had the fourth-highest operating revenue.

In 2011-12, it received the eighth-most direct institutional support but maintained the fourth-highest operating revenue.

This is most likely owed in part to the fact that the rowing team had 70 student-athletes in 2011-12, the second most behind only the football team, which had 104.

Despite the strong example that Texas sets for schools like Buffalo that want to enjoy fiscal and athletic success, former Arizona President Peter Likins believes Texas' success can be a double-edged sword.

"At Texas, it may be sustainable," Likins said of athletics spending in a USA Today article. "But think about the schools that are desperately struggling to stay in the game and are dramatically increasing the university's subsidy of intercollegiate athletics and aren't succeeding in improving their financial position."

"Texas, in a certain sense, elevates the stakes of the game so that schools ... are further motivated to make financial commitments to try to catch up."

While UB certainly has a big-time overall budget (the university had a revenue of $1 billion last year and profited nearly $150 million), that money is being put into other aspects of the school.

Some students are complaining about poor athletics teams, but the administration is putting funding into improved housing and engineering buildings and attempting to build a new medical campus.

The entire athletic department received a total of $10.2 million in the 2011-12 academic year, a hundredth of the total operating revenue of the school in the same period.

As UB continues to expand in the coming years, some sports will have to take a back burner to bigger issues on campus or find their own funding, something that Athletic Director Danny White has said he is committed to.



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