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Posted: Tuesday November 18, 2008 3:48PM; Updated: Tuesday November 18, 2008 5:16PM
Andy Staples Andy Staples >

In the big-time football spending war, the rich get richer

Story Highlights

An examination of records shows Texas Tech outspent Oklahoma in football

But the OU athletic department brought in significently more revenue

In athletic arms race, the big schools take the lead and everyone plays catch up

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Mike Leach
Mike Leach has built up Texas Tech, but will the Red Raiders be able to keep their coach after this year?
Darren Carroll/SI
Cost Of Living
Of the programs in this week's BCS top 20, the five most expensive and the five least expensive in the period between 2002-03 and 2006-07.
School Avg. Expenses
Ohio State $24,279,232
USC $16,477,218
Texas Tech $15,487,418
Texas $15,208,776
Alabama $15,005,017
School Avg. Expenses
Ball State $3,862,306
Boise State $4,635,410
Utah $6,680,075
Missouri $6,920,256
Cincinnati $7,446,136
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Before second-ranked Texas Tech faces fifth-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman, writers and talking heads will hype the game as the plucky upstart with the funky offense against the bastion of college football tradition. The implied message? Texas Tech is the noble peasant who scrapes his pennies together. Oklahoma is the feudal lord with the castle on the hill and enough gold in his war chest to quell any uprising.

So, it might come as a surprise to learn that, according to information schools are required by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) to submit to the U.S. Department of Education, Texas Tech outspent Oklahoma by $4.3 million to operate its football program between the 2002-03 and 2006-07 school years. An examination of the football revenues and expenses of the top 20 schools in this week's BCS standings showed that the Red Raiders spent $77,437,091 on football during that span. Oklahoma spent $73,100,833.

Because the EADA numbers do not take into account capital expenditures (stadium renovation, new academic centers, weight rooms, etc.), and because the information is gathered from public and private institutions with wildly varied accounting practices regarding how donations and salaries are counted, the figures do not prove that Texas Tech -- which has risen to football prominence during coach Mike Leach's nine-year tenure -- has closed the gap on Oklahoma, one of a handful of brand-name college football programs. The numbers do, however, suggest that by pouring money into football, Texas Tech's athletic department has helped narrow the distance between itself and some of its more established Big 12 brethren.

Using Texas Tech's example, it seems logical that any school that hopes to eventually build a self-sustaining athletic department that uses no public money would do so by pumping funds into football, a sport that seems to grow into a more powerful revenue generator every year. And that is precisely what some schools are doing, but a leading sports economist believes the practice ultimately will lead to more athletic departments draining dollars from already cash-strapped universities.

"Most schools are chasing the Holy Grail," said Andrew Zimbalist, the Smith College economics professor who in 1999 wrote Unpaid Professionals: Commercialism and Conflict in Big-time College Sports.

Zimbalist estimates that of the hundreds of college athletic departments in America, only about six generate a surplus in a given year. But athletic directors see those big-money departments and believe that if they turn their football program into a juggernaut, they might someday join the ranks of Ohio State, Florida and Texas, which have parlayed football success and prestige into high eight- and low nine-figure revenues. Zimbalist said only a select few departments can sustain such success; the others merely will keep spending donor and taxpayer dollars in an attempt to stay competitive.

In Texas Tech's case, the Red Raiders had little choice but to find funds for football. When the Big 12 merged former members of the Southwest Conference and Big 8 in 1996, the Red Raiders found themselves swimming in a deep ocean with some big fish. Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Nebraska brought in massive revenues, and to compete with those schools, Texas Tech would have to spend.

"It wasn't overnight that, all of a sudden, we had an outstanding football team," Texas Tech athletic director Gerald Myers said. "We've been working on this for years."

According to the EADA figures, Texas Tech's football spending jumped from $7.3 million in 2002-03 to $15.3 million in 2003-04. In the meantime, to keep up with the Joneses, Texas Tech also had to keep up Jones. That's Jones stadium, now named Jones AT&T Stadium after a $20 million donation in 2000 from SBC Communications to kick off a three-phase renovation of the Red Raiders' home field. The first phase, completed in 2003, added a new press box and club suites at a cost of $51.9 million. The second phase, completed before the 2006 season, included the installation of a new FieldTurf playing surface. The third phase, which includes more lucrative club seats, was postponed, but after raising almost $25 million for the project this year, Texas Tech should be able to begin construction when the season concludes.

Myers said the department never could have committed so much money to football without the support of university administrators. He also said Texas Tech's admission to the Big 12 left the department little choice but to ramp up spending. The league -- which distributes television and bowl revenue to all teams -- expects teams to stay competitive. But Myers, in spite of an operating budget that, according to Myers' bio on the Texas Tech athletics Web site, rose from $9 million in 1996 to $42 million in 2006, and in spite of the EADA numbers, said Texas Tech is not yet playing on a level field with Oklahoma or Texas. "The problem with the EADA numbers," he said, "is I don't think it's always apples to apples."

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