Saturday, January 7, 2017

College Football Teams Are Risky and Expensive—and Schools Keep Adding Them

Universities still think the sport’s benefits outweigh the costs

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- At many schools, the costs of football are starting to challenge the benefits. It’s expensive, it doesn’t always make money, many academic faculty resent it, and the ongoing debate over health risks and players’ labor rights put universities in an awkward position.

Taken together, football could look like the kind of hassle a university president might try to avoid.

Yet few do. In the past eight years, 57 colleges and universities have started an NCAA football program. The University of Alabama, at Birmingham, restored its team to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Another 11 joined the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), and the rest are competing at lower levels—Divisions II or III. For all but UAB, there’s little money to be made from TV or ticket sales.

In the past decade, annual football expenses at a typical FCS school have increased from less than $2 million to $3.5 million. In the same period, revenue has expanded from $430,000 to $1 million. Middle-of-the-road FCS programs—a division that includes University of Maine, Colgate, Portland State—are losing millions on football altogether.

In spite of all this, East Tennessee State University still decided to add football in 2015. The team costs about $4 million to field, one-quarter of the overall department budget. Encouraged by the school’s president, students approved a $125 fee that would cover $2.8 million of the football team’s costs. “That was the only way we could do it,” said Richard Sander, originally a consultant on the football revival and later hired as the school’s athletic director.


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