Football: ‘Not as profitable of a venture’
Four years ago, when the Towson football team won just one game all season and went 0-8 in the Colonial Athletic Association, the University would have traded anything for a few more wins.
Now that they have finished a season with 13 wins and a trip to the FCS National Championship game, they are realizing the financial cost of picking up those wins.
Most college football fans assume that the farther their team makes it in the season, the more money they’ll make. But for both FBS and FCS schools, making a playoff run or a trip to a bowl game, it’s usually about losing money. Between trips to Eastern Illinois and Eastern Washington for playoff games and to Frisco, Texas. for the National Championship game, Towson lost $50,000, according to Director of Athletics Tim Leonard.
And that’s before factoring in how much money the University spent on hosting Towson’s home playoff game against Fordham.
“It’s a very expensive proposition at this level. Fewer people are putting in bids to host [playoff games],” Leonard said.
Towson was required to host the Fordham game because they were seeded in the playoff bracket, while Fordham was not. However, if Towson had missed out on getting seeded in the playoffs, Leonard said the
department had already decided to decline to host the playoff game.
“The NCAA doesn’t necessarily reimburse you for hosting,” Leonard said. “Traveling was probably cheaper than if we would have hosted all the way through.”
Most colleges, according to Senior Associate Director of Athletics Roy Brown, don’t budget for the postseason in the FBS or FCS.
Even when traveling, Towson struggled to just break even. For the National Championship game, the University went above the allotted amount given to it by the NCAA to travel.
The lump sum given by the NCAA to schools traveling for playoff games only covers about 70 players and the team’s coaches, plus the hotel, food and travel to and from the stadium, according to Leonard. But
Towson ended up bringing more people along on the trip.
“There were things we added to the experience to make sure all of our kids, the football student athletes, all of them went…we brought anyone else who was hurt. If they were part of the team, we were taking
them,” Leonard said. “The coaches’ families were there. We wanted to make sure anyone who deserved to be there was there.”
As part of making it farther into the playoffs, Leonard said the University did generate about $150,000 in pledges from alumni, and expects fundraising to grow at the University each year as the football team
and the other programs improve.
Besides travel, the Athletics Department’s budget will be stretched thin if other teams want to find similar success to the football team.
“Once you start making that commitment to winning, you can never stand still. We can’t just say the winning will take care of itself now. Every other team who didn’t get as far as us now, they are wondering
what they can do better now to get better than Towson. We want to put more money into recruiting. We want to put more money into our football operations. We want to put more money into the way we
travel…,” Leonard said.
Football Head Coach Rob Ambrose also received an extension after the National Championship trip. Ambrose has yet to officially sign a contract, so there is no official word on whether or not he will receive a
raise, according to Brown. Under his previous contract, Ambrose was making $250,000 a year, according to The Baltimore Sun’s database of state employees’ salaries. However, it is widely speculated that
Ambrose will receive a raise.
Basketball Head Coach Pat Skerry also makes $275,000 a year, according to the database. As both those teams continue to excel, the coaches may be asking for extensions, or more money. Requests that need to
be met if Towson wants to keep their coaches from defecting to bigger colleges.
Spending money on the success of programs can add stress to the supporting staff in the Athletics Department, which is something every college struggles with, Leonard said.
Over winter break, Towson made at least four layoffs, and the employees were told that the moves were strictly budgetary. One of the laid off employees, Deanna Terelle, said the staff changes in Athletics
weren’t performance-based firings.
“They simply made a move that was in the best interest of the University and sadly that meant that positions had to be cut,” Terelle said in a Facebook message. “I was sadly one of the unlucky ones and it is
unfortunate, however I want Towson to be successful and especially to continue growing the athletics department.”
This is all part of the “juggling act,” Leonard said, that all colleges suffer from.
According to the NCAA’s report on Revenues and Expenses, which was last published in 2012 and covers the years 2004 – 2011, most FCS schools made little to no money on athletics in fiscal year 2011.
The report states that the median revenue for FCS schools for all sports was $13,425,000 while the median expenses for all sports were $13,218,000.
The total median revenue includes earnings from the athletics department, direct institutional support, indirect institutional support, student fees and governmental support.
But Leonard hopes that in the coming years, his department won’t have to depemd on the University to be sustainable.
“I don’t want to be as reliant on big brother . . . We have to be more dependent on ourselves and develop our own revenue,” he said. “We want to have a big annual campaign to raise money before the end of the
fiscal year. We’ve got to have more sales in sponsorship sales, and we have to have substantial growth in our ticket sales.”
And despite the proposal to increase student fees, including the athletics fee, at the end of last semester by the University, Leonard said he didn’t ask for the increase.
“We are not going and asking for a 10 percent increase in student fees for our budget,” he said. “I don’t think the president would support that right now. I don’t think the climate is right for that right now. I
think what we need to do is prove that we can generate more revenue first.”
Even for FBS schools, playing in the postseason can be financially difficult. Leonard’s former school, the University of Central Florida, traveled to the Fiesta Bowl this season and defeated Baylor. However,
Leonard said UCF lost almost $2 million on the trip because the NCAA forces schools to pay for an allotment of tickets, and the school had to pay for the leftover tickets they weren’t able to sell.
“For FCS, the NCAA puts on the game, but in FBS, the bowl games [pay for the expenses],” Leonard said. “Either way, it’s not as profitable of a venture as people think it is.”