Why women's college basketball might be stuck in the red

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Kristi A. Dosh at the Business at College Sports website explains why women's college basketball programs don't make money - and the answer has nothing to do with attendance or TV ratings.

In big-time college sports, a team's profit-and-loss ledger can be just as interesting as a box score. If financials are just as intriguing as touchdowns, I'd make Kristi A. Dosh from The Business of College Sports recommended reading and her article "Why Women's College Basketball Operates at a Deficit" is a good reason why.

The article focuses on Alabama women's basketball. The Crimson Tide has a brand new coach and Dosh's article looks at the state of the women's program. All in all, Alabama women's basketball ran a $2.4 million dollar deficit for fiscal year 2012.

As Dosh points out, Alabama is not an isolated instance of a sub-par women's program struggling. Even the large programs like Connecticut and Tennessee end up in the red for their universities. But the key to turning things around in women's basketball isn't just getting more butts in seats or even having a nice television contract - Tennessee has the best attendance in women's basketball and still ends up in the red. So why is that?

Dosh has the answer: donations. From the article linked above:

Football and men’s basketball donations are bolstered by donations required for the right to purchase season tickets, which can be a lofty sum when tickets are in demand. In fact, as I detail in my book Saturday Millionaires, donations to the top football and basketball programs can sometimes be twice as much as television revenue, mistakenly believed by many to be the largest source of revenue for athletic departments.

Dosh supplies some numbers for the Southeastern Conference (SEC) schools. If you look at Alabama's donor contributions to women's basketball, the total sum donated is...$0.00. On the other hand, if you look at the donations to Crimson Tide football, that number would be $18.6 million dollars.

For the numbers Dosh supplied for the SEC:

* For every $1 donated to women's basketball, $6.02 was donated to men's basketball.
* For every $1 donated to women's basketball, $67.03 was donated to football.


Of course, these numbers have to be accepted with a big grain of salt. The source of all of these numbers are the NCAA financial disclosures filed by each university, all obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests. Not every university divides its slices of the financial pie by the same methods in its reports to the NCAA. Kentucky, for example, does not break down individual contributions by sport. Mississippi State does not move contributions over to football unless football needs the revenue. Vanderbilt is a private institution and is not subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Out of the 12 Southeastern Conference programs that are not Kentucky or Vanderbilt, four of those schools - Alabama, Arkansas, Florida and South Carolina - had a grand total of $0 donated to women's basketball. Compare this to the $81.6 million dollars donated to those four schools by football donors which can be used to offset football losses. Women's basketball can't offset its losses with donor revenue, and ends up in the red.

And this large amount of money listed under the football subheading isn't even the total of donations for football! The sum of donations that the football program is allowed to accept is capped by Title IX. According to Dosh, a school cannot take in all of its money with the excuse that "these funds are earmarked for football" if it would violate the Title IX proportionality rules, e. g. a school can not use the explanation that "funds are earmarked" as an excuse for discrimination. The excess donated cash is either set aside, or substitutes for other football revenue sources (which are then moved out of football). Counting that extra money would balloon the football total contributions numbers even higher.

Alabama is starting the Crimson Tide Center Court Club in an effort to spark donations to women's basketball. The membership levels range from $25 (the Free Throw Level) to $500 (the Hall of Fame Level) with each successive level offering an expanded range of benefits. The hope is that the Center Court Club can spark some donations to the women's basketball program and help it climb out of the red.

(* * *)

I began to look into the issue of individual booster clubs for women's basketball, but it proved to be frustrating. It seemed that not every university had a booster club for women's basketball. For some schools, the women's basketball booster club information appeared to be out-of-date.

With that in mind, I wrote to Kristi Dosh and asked her for the financial numbers reported by the schools that have had the best attendance in women's basketball over the last four years. She was kind enough to supply that information to me, and the table follows:

Revenue Expenses Net Revenue Contributions
Baylor
Connecticut $4,704,571 $6,037,412 ($1,332,841) $389,033
Iowa $761,941 $3,932,286 ($3,170,345) $181,941
Iowa St. $850,536.77 $2,823,446.78 ($1,972,910) $54,701
Kansas St. $294,215 $2,698,929 ($2,404,714) $31,188
Kentucky $616,135 $3,617,060 ($3,000,925) *
Louisville $959,351 $3,279,449 ($2,320,098) $193,074
LSU $571,004 $3,743,747 ($3,172,743) $168,856
Maryland $668,528 $2,904,054 ($2,235,526) $10,219
Michigan St. $876,379 $3,504,478 ($2,628,099) $234,002
Nebraska $908,656 $3,311,810 ($2,403,154) $50,959
New Mexico $754,080 $1,745,921 ($991,841) $55,057
Oklahoma $2,720,788 $4,962,681 ($2,241,893) $1,173,382
Penn St. $811,031 $2,700,022 ($1,888,991) $270,788
Purdue $924,154 $3,092,201 ($2,168,047) $402,060
Tennessee $4,538,252 $6,586,982 ($2,048,730) $1,079,926
Texas $1,582,747 $4,859,904 ($3,277,157) $512,907
Texas A&M $1,585,615.74 $4,831,244 ($3,245,628) $39,127
Texas Tech $2,220,464 $4,379,690 ($2,159,226) $1,264,750
Wisconsin $1,680,300 $3,280,275 ($1,599,975) $1,108,999


Baylor is a private university and not subject to Freedom of Information acts. Kentucky does not break down its contributions by sport. For the other programs listed above:

Average revenue: $1,475,197
Average expenses: $3,280,275
Average net revenue: -$2,329,623


None of the "big time" women's programs are in the black. The program that is the least in the red is New Mexico, the only school listed which is not in a power conference.

Note that only four programs on this list had women's basketball contributions in the $1 million plus range: Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Tennessee. Mighty Connecticut comes in sixth, receiving only $389,033 dollars in total women's basketball contributions. Some schools on the list receive contributions only in the five-digits level.

So what is the conclusion, given the numbers above and Dosh's article? Undoubtedly, the best thing women's basketball fans can do for their schools is not just attend games and advocate for better media coverage, but go "above and beyond" and join their school's booster clubs. Don't be intimidated by implied requirements that the minimum level donation is, say, $100 - a donation is just that, a donation and I suspect that any amount of money would be appreciated.

(* * *)

Thanks to Kristi A. Dosh over at the Business at College Sports (http://businessofcollegesports.com) for the time she took out of her busy schedule to supply the numbers for the schools listed above.

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