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The Dollars and Cents of MidMajor Football: A Student Perspective

Ed. Note – From time to time, OTP publishes something outside the normal scope of things around these parts. Today’s particular piece comes to us courtesy of Nathan Pace, BSU student, and is quite the interesting look at finances and money when it comes to college football. It’s been a common refrain from fans and supporters that BSU doesn’t do enough to support the program, so any and all information that can help paint a more complete picture of the way of things is always a welcome contribution. Enjoy…

College football, in the words of Puff Daddy, is all about the Benjamins, baby.

Winston Churchill’s quote, “Victory at all costs” applied to war, but many colleges back in America are applying it to football.

University athletic departments, specifically mid-majors, are spending more money than they are taking in and that includes Mid-American Conference schools like Ball State.

Ball State finished dead last in attendance among Football Bowl Subdivision [formerly Division 1-A] last season and the MAC finished last among the 11 conferences at that level.

Youngstown State in Ohio averaged over 6,000 fans more per home game than Ball State in 2010. Problem is Youngstown State is a Football Championship Subdivision member that has half the budget of its MAC counterpart.
“MAC schools are obviously Division 1 (FBS), they have to fund more scholarships for football,” Rick Love Associate Director of Athletics at Youngstown State said. “We’ve always been able to operate not on a shoestring but just stay within budget and have tried to operate very conscientiously and using the school’s money and budgeting.”

Most MAC schools have a budget of $20 million while FCS programs average around $10 million. According to the USA Today’s database on Division 1 athletic budgets, Ball State subsidizes athletics with student fees and funding from the university. Ball State generates over $9 million in student fees while Youngstown State has no student fees.

“Our budget is easily less than half of what most of the MAC schools operate on,” Love said. “For a long time we’ve done more with less than a lot of people.”

Indiana State is another FCS school but generated $5.58 million in student fees in 2009. The Sycamores have struggled on the field going winless for three years compared to the Penguins of Youngstown who have competed for national championships.

Yet even with lower attendance Indiana State only trails Ball State in ticket revenue for the 2009 season by roughly $200,000. Ball State spent $10 million more than Indiana State.

“In our opinion, at Indiana State, being FBS in football is not worth the costs.” Angie Lansing Assistant Athletic Director for Business Affairs said.

Indiana State’s game with Illinois State this past Saturday was streamed live nationally on ESPN3.com. Ball State’s win over Central Michigan was not, demonstrating that media exposure does not always favor FBS programs.

Student fees make up over 40 percent of the athletic budget at Ball State, but Lansing does not jump to the conclusion that struggling FBS programs should drop down to FCS to save money.

“With rising costs and strained budgets, it’s a difficult economic climate for many athletics programs around the country regardless of the level,” Lansing said.

Another FCS school in the area, Western Kentucky, made the jump up to FBS with mixed results. Western Kentucky’s first season as an FBS member was 2008 where the football team went 2-10 and winless the year after. The Hilltoppers have not made more money right away but believe they are progressing.

“We’re going in the right direction, it’s going to take a little while to get there and I think we realized that,” said Darrell Horn Associate Athletics Director at Western Kentucky. “I think right now we are very competitive in the Sun Belt right now. It’s just going to take a while to get there but we realized that.”

Western Kentucky may not be raking it in like other FBS schools but it has a leg up on Ball State in attendance and ticket sales. Western Kentucky averaged over 5,000 fans per game more than Ball State and a million dollars more in ticket sales. The Hilltoppers were able to raise a million dollars more in private contributions to the athletic department as well.

Horn says that moving up to the FBS level has improved the schools ability to recruit not just football players but student athletes in all sports.

“It helps your recruiting profile,” Horn said. “It helps your recruiting profile to move up to a D-1 school (FBS) in football I think it’s easier to recruit athletes across the board to all your programs.”

Love at Youngstown State says he likes where his school is it as it can compete for a national championship in FCS level.

“We’ve kind of enjoyed the opportunity to go the playoffs and play for a championship on the field and to have playoff games in our stadium and participate in postseasons,” Love said. “We have a pretty good history and tradition here and enjoy the level of football that we’re at.”

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