Money keeps rising in college sports, but Hawkeyes struggle to turn a profit

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

The money generated by major-college sports keeps rising, but that doesn't make it any more likely that schools such as Iowa will turn a profit.

That reality is detailed in a comprehensive financial report of public university athletic departments compiled by USA Today that was released Thursday.

The report shows that Iowa's athletic department had total operating revenue of $113.25 million for the 2015-16 academic year, with expenditures of $116.17 million. The resulting deficit of $2.92 million marked the second consecutive year the department operated in the red.

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta oversees a budget in excess of $100 million, but has struggled to turn a profit in recent years.

In 2014-15, Iowa's athletic department brought in $105.97 million and spent $109.21 million for a deficit of $3.24 million.

The 2016 gap was anticipated, Iowa athletic director Gary Barta told reporters in February. It was tied to a poorer performance by the football team in 2014 that suppressed ticket sales in 2015, followed by a terrific season that culminated in a Hawkeye appearance in the Rose Bowl and triggered extensive bonuses for the football coaches.

The deficit was covered by the athletic department’s reserve fund, which Barta estimated sits between $8-9 million. Barta has said he anticipates a balanced budget when 2016-17 figures are released. That was before the university settled two gender discrimination lawsuits for $6.5 million, however. 

The university said in a statement to the Register: "UI Athletics will work within its current operational budget to fund the settlement. Athletics will remain 100 percent self-sufficient, which it has been since 2007. In addition, the athletic and academic opportunities for our student-athletes will not be impacted." 

The athletic department does not rely on state or university funding.

Highlights of Iowa's athletic finances the past two years:

  • Ticket sales for all sports generated $25.7 million in 2015-16, down nearly $1 million from the previous year.
  • Donor contributions jumped to $27.8 million in 2015-16, a climb of  $2.4 million. 
  • The Hawkeyes received $24.4 million in media rights allocations, up from $23 million in 2014-15.
  • The NCAA and Big Ten Conference distributed $12.7 million to Iowa in 2015-16, a $2 million increase from the previous payout.
  • Iowa's coaching salaries and bonuses totaled $20.3 million, up $2.1 million from 2014-15.
  • Payments to athletic department support staff were also up, to $18 million in 2015-16. That was $700,000 more than the previous year.
  • In addition, Iowa spent $2.8 million to feed its athletes in 2015-16 as the NCAA started to allow unlimited meals and snacks.