NC State Brings Hot Streak, Low Debt into Men’s and Women’s Final Fours

There are many ways NC State stands out in the men’s Final Four. The school pays its coach the least, spends the least on men’s basketball, and had by far the longest title odds heading into the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack is also the only team that wasn’t ranked in the Top 25 at all this year.

Here’s one more: It has the lowest amount of athletic debt.

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The Wolfpack reported $32.4 million of outstanding athletics debt in fiscal 2023, the fourth lowest total for any public school in the Power Five. Of the Final Four teams, UConn is next at $58.8 million, followed by Purdue at $130.8 million and Alabama at $226.8 million.

How small is NC State’s $32.4 million in reported athletic debt? The average among the other seven public ACC schools is $130 million, according to Sportico's college finance database. Two public schools (Texas A&M and Ohio State), reported annual athletics debt service higher than $40 million.

An NC State athletic rep said in an email that the athletic department has “worked intentionally” with the school since 2019 to maintain a low level of debt. The department also partners with the Wolfpack Club, the booster organization, for major capital projects. The Wolfpack Club recently ran a $200 million campaign that included a $35 million renovation to its basketball arena and a $17.2 million indoor practice facility. The school declined further comment.

Athletics debt, of course, is not the mark of an unhealthy athletic department. Many schools utilize debt to access money for projects that pay for themselves over time, particularly during periods when interest rates are low. It can be a simpler and faster way to fund capital projects, and one that often comes with less baggage than lengthy school-backed development campaigns.

That said, debt can create a financial hole that burdens both the athletic department and the school itself. Cal, which has $439 million in sports debt, more than any other athletic department in the country, is an example of that.

Athletics debt may also become a bigger issue in the future, given the uncertainty swirling around college sports. Conference realignment has reshaped the power structure, shifts in media and ticket sales may slow the growth of long-term revenue streams once considered reliable, and athletic departments are starting to prepare for a new economic model in which athletes could see a much larger share of the money they help generate.

Cal, again, is a good example here. It was one of the last schools to leave the dying Pac-12 and is transitioning to an ACC that is also under threat of losing its status as a “power conference."

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