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Tom Kacich | Higher costs send UI athletics back in the red

Jan. 29—The University of Illinois athletics program went back into the red last year, spending about $4.5 million more than it brought in, according to financial data reported to the NCAA.

The UI Division of Intercollegiate Athletics spent $152.8 million and reported revenue of $148.3 million in fiscal year 2023, which ended June 30, 2023. It's the third year in the last five that the DIA was in the red. The department reported a $16.6 million surplus in FY 2022.

The red ink "was

due in large part to inflationary increases that began following the COVID pandemic that have largely affected every sector of our economy," said associated athletic director Derrick Burson.

Like all UI financial accounts, DIA expenses are paid by the university as they are incurred with a reconciliation at the end of the fiscal year. Any shortfalls, like the $4.5 million last year, are carried forward to the next fiscal year.

DIA expenses grew more than $23 million last year, boosted in large part by increased spending on direct overhead and administrative expenses, which includes items like administrative costs, facilities maintenance, security, risk management and utilities. That particular line item increased from $12.6 million two years ago to $19.1 million in FY23.

Burson said that travel expenses increased by more than $6 million; facility maintenance charges grew by more than $1 million; medical expenses and event security and staffing costs each rose by nearly $1 million, and student-athlete meals and nutrition expenses rose by more than $500,000.

He noted that other college athletic programs have also been hurt by higher costs.

"The rapidly rising costs seen across college athletics are a concern for every program," Burson said. "In FY23, from the information DIA has gathered, the average increase in expenses among Big Ten institutions was greater than 15 percent. As has been detailed in recent public reports, some of the nation's most robust athletic programs also reported record deficits."

Michigan State's athletic program lost nearly $3.5 million last year. Rutgers finished $28 million in the hole. But other Big Ten schools that have made their financials public finished the year in the black. Ohio State had a $4.5 million surplus; Wisconsin's was $3 million; Minnesota's was about $1.8 million. Penn State finished with a $126,352 balance on $202.2 million in revenue.

At Illinois, support-staff salaries was the single-biggest expense last year at $29.9 million. That includes salaries, bonuses and benefits to all administrative and support staff besides coaches.

Coaching salaries and benefits — the No. 2 expense — rose from $25.9 million two years ago to $27.3 million last year. That covers 34 men's head coaches and assistants and 29 women's head coaches and assistants.

By contrast, athletic student aid — institutional financial aid for tuition, fees, room and board, and required course-related books — amounted to $13.4 million.

A more unusual increase in expenses came from the football team's participation in the Jan. 2, 2023, ReliaQuest Bowl in Tampa, Fla., where the Illini lost to Mississippi State, 19-10.

The athletic department also lost money on the game, receiving $700,240 but paying out about five times that amount in expenses. Illinois reported $3.08 million in costs plus another $652,627 in coaching bonuses related to the game for a total of $3.73 million in expenses, a net loss of about $3 million.

But the university also receives bowl-related revenue from a conference-wide allocation that last year amounted to $9.175 million for Illinois, as well as other benefits, according to Burson.

"There are countless benefits, financial and otherwise, to our football program, DIA and the University of Illinois for participating in the football postseason," he said.

Ticket sales were a bright spot on the Illinois revenue side, growing from $15.7 million in FY22 to $19.7 million last year. Two years ago, Illinois basketball ticket sales were greater than football's — a rarity in big-time college athletics — by $1.4 million. Last year, football ticket sales revenue was $10.2 million; basketball ticket sales were up $600,000 to $8.9 million.

Volleyball ticket sales ranked third at $243,758. Ticket revenue for women's basketball grew from $50,545 two years ago to $162,164 last year, boosted by new coach Shauna Green and a

22-10 record.

Illinois' media-rights revenue — primarily proceeds from television and radio contracts — grew to $50.6 million, greater than even Ohio State's $49.7 million. A rich, conference-wide TV contract made media rights the single largest revenue item at Illinois, providing more than one-third all its income. Neighboring Missouri, a member of the Southeastern Conference, reported $37.5 million in media rights last year. The Missouri athletic program reported making $141.5 million last year.

Overall, football provided $70.5 million in operating revenue, with men's basketball adding $28.1 million and women's basketball contributing $1.6 million.

Football expenses amounted to $35.1 million, men's basketball expenses were $14.2 million and women's basketball cost $6.1 million.