Oct 22, 2020 - Sports

Division I's "have-nots" are drowning

Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The pandemic has wreaked financial havoc on universities across the country. But while Power 5 schools are finally getting financial relief from their lucrative football programs, Division I's "have-nots" are still drowning.

Driving the news: The University of California, Riverside, which competes in the Big West Conference but doesn't play football, is considering dropping all 15 sports to cut costs.

By the numbers: UC Riverside is the most subsidized D-I athletic department in the country, per USA Today, with more than 90% of its $23.2 million in annual revenue coming from institutional support ($18.7 million) and student fees ($2.3 million).

  • Revenues (2019): $18.7m in school support; $2.3m in student fees; $646k in rights/licensing; $151k in ticket sales; $816k in 'other" = $23.2 million
  • Expenses (2019): $7.7m on coaching/staff; $4.8m on scholarships; $92k on facilities/overhead; $11m on "other" = $24.2 million

The state of play: School officials project a loss of $32 million in state funds due to the pandemic. Eliminating sports expenses while redirecting school funds elsewhere could help alleviate some of that financial stress.

The other side: Athletic director Tamica Smith-Jones has proposed an alternative solution, ESPN's Myron Medcalf reports.

  • Her plan involves increasing student fees (currently $105 per student) and expanding the athletic department to include recreational programs.

What's next: UC Riverside is expected to make a decision before the end of the year and possibly as early as next month.

Data: NCAA; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: NCAA; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: D-I, D-II and D-III athletics exist in entirely different galaxies. But even within the top division, itself, there's a huge gap between the UCLA's and UC Riverside's of the world.

  • With football underway and basketball nearing its return, Power 5 schools are back to generating millions of dollars from TV deals (plus some ticket sales) despite many of their campuses looking like ghost towns.
  • Meanwhile, UC Riverside and other smaller D-I school that rely primarily on institutional support and student fees are scrambling.

The bottom line: The Division I divide was best illustrated in a recent Knight Commission study, in which college administrators showed an openness for radical restructuring.

  • 61% of Power 5 administrators said they'd support breaking away and creating a fourth division for Power 5 programs in all sports except basketball.
  • All other segments of Division I — Group of Five, FCS and non–football playing members — were categorically opposed to that plan.

Go deeper: Inside the world of college sports financing (Axios)

Go deeper