About Sportico’s Intercollegiate Finance Database

·3 min read

With mounting public concern over the way money flows through college sports, Sportico’s real-time database tracks the official profit and loss (P&L) statements of public FBS university athletic departments.

Our numbers duplicate those that schools submit annually through the NCAA’s Membership Financial Report System (MFRS), which we’ve obtained through numerous open records requests. As such, our database provides the most comprehensive and interactive examination into the finances of major college athletics.

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MFRS reports offer detailed breakdowns of athletic department revenues and expenses over the course of a school’s fiscal year, which typically runs from July 1 through June 30. We will continually update the data as new MFRS reports are made available each year, and we will be adding new features over time.

Our database covers money coming into these athletic departments—e.g., from donors, conferences, ticket sales, support from central campus—as well as money going out for student aid, salaries, travel, uniforms, meals, etc., since the 2017-18 season.

While this data set represents the best available for comparing college sports budgets, it doesn’t capture the finances of all major athletic programs.

Some FBS institutions, including the 20 private universities, service academies and “state-related” institutions in Pennsylvania, are exempt from public disclosure laws, which, in certain cases, prevents us from gaining access to their MFRS information.

For the data we do have, it is important to note that while the reporting categories are identical for each school, the accounting practices sometimes are not. Despite the NCAA’s efforts to standardize the process by defining each revenue or expense classification, institutions still reconcile their books in different ways. (You can find a glossary of definitions in the NCAA’s Agreed-Upon procedures document.)

Big-ticket items can also create outliers in the data. For example, Oregon reported by far the highest operating revenue of any FBS athletic department in 2019-20 ($391 million), a figure that more than doubled what the school reported in previous years. But that sum was the result of a unique circumstance: a privately financed, $270 million track and field facility, which was accounted for as an in-kind gift to UO’s athletic department.

Different accounting practices also confound sport-specific data. For example, Mississippi reported $11.9 million in donations for the football team during the 2019-2020 school year, while Mississippi State reported just $200. But MSU reported $25.2 million in “non-sport specific” donations, as opposed to just $9.4 million for Ole Miss. In their grand totals, both athletics departments ended up with virtually identical sums for contributions.

Also of note:

MFRS reports define “revenue” as any money received by the athletic department from external sources. That includes money generated by athletics (such as through ticket sales or multimedia rights), but also funds transferred from schools’ main campuses or via mandatory student fees. Rutgers, for instance, reported $103 million in “revenue” for 2019-20. If you remove support from the university, students and the state, the generated revenue is much closer to $74 million.

One of the largest annual expenses for athletic departments is categorized as “student aid,” the cost of tuition, room and board for scholarship athletes. Schools typically calculate this number based on the price of out-of-state tuition, regardless of how many in-state athletes are on campus, and this often fails to represent the true cost to the school of educating and boarding those athletes. Some economists have argued that, for most institutions, the actual student aid expense to the school is de minimis.

(This page was updated to clarify the database includes profit and loss statements, not balance sheets.)