This is part one in a two-part series.
BYU is home to 21 sports teams and about 550 athletes, ranging from quarterbacks and point guards to champion divers and record-breaking sprinters.
But when it comes to BYU's bottom line, the only sport that really matters is football.
Of all the sports that make up BYU's athletic budget, football by far exceeds all others in turning a profit. In fact, except for men's basketball, all other sports lose money.
In 2009, football made a 53 percent profit and men's basketball made 8 percent. Everything else was in the red.
Even with the unprofitable sports, BYU Athletics still made $5.5 million in profit, according to data obtained from the U.S. Department of Education. The reason the other sports survive is because all the sports’ revenues and expenses come from the athletic budget as a whole, said Dallan Moody, BYU’s associate athletics director over finance.
“Revenue comes into the big pot, and so all the expenses come out of the big pot,” Moody said.
Of those team revenues coming in, football accounted for a little over 60 percent of them in 2009. Men’s basketball pitched in almost 15 percent and women’s basketball less than three percent. All other men’s sports combined made up almost 10 percent and all other women’s sports combined made up about 12 percent. (BYU sports not officially sanctioned by the NCAA, like men’s soccer and rugby, are not covered by the Athletics Department budget.)
As for total team expenses, football took back 42 percent of 2009’s big pot. With an almost $300,000 difference between what football makes and what football spends, the other sports can get away with collectively contributing less than 40 percent of BYU’s team revenues and using up almost 58 percent of the expenses.
Moody said such a football-focused budget is typical of a university like BYU.
“Consistently football is a big money producer and brings in a lot of revenue to the school, definitely,” Moody said.
Revenues mainly come from ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, TV/radio broadcasting contracts and donations. While some of these sources are not directly related to any particular sport, Moody said football might still be a factor, especially in determining where to send donation money.
“You have people donating to the university, to the athletic program,” Moody said. “Do you allocate that to football? Or do you just allocate it just to a general, non-specific category? Because are those people making donations based on how well the football team’s doing? Or is there a more general reason why they’re doing it?”
Tim Powers, BYU’s head coach for the swim and dive teams, said his teams benefit from some donations, but it’s not enough without the football money.
“There are donations that come in and we get to retain some of that. We have alumni that send money,” Powers said. “But it doesn’t begin to pay for the programs. Football, especially a football program that’s producing revenues, either at the gate or with TV revenues, is going to pay for entire athletic programs.”
Powers said football is a foundation for any university athletics program.
“Football at any Division I institution, especially if they’re successful, pays for all the programs,” Powers said. “That’s not unusual. A football game at the football stadium is what makes sports possible.”
To Mark Robison, head coach for the men’s track team, ignoring or forgetting football or men’s basketball is absurd.
“There’s not a chance in this world that anybody else is going to make any money, because we don’t have a crowd,” Robison said. “That’s why everybody cheers for football and basketball, because if those two programs don’t do well, then your athletic department’s in real dire straits.”
Although he said he is grateful for the support from football, women’s basketball coach Jeff Judkins still has a goal to eventually become self-sufficient.
“One of my goals when I got here was to hopefully have, through volunteer money and so forth, to try and run my own program without any help,” Judkins said. “But we’ve been very appreciative. I have a pretty good relationship with Dave [Rose, men’s basketball head coach] and Bronco [Mendenhall, football head coach], so I tell them many times, ‘Thank you for being good. Thank you for all that.’”
Brian Logan, who just finished his senior season as a defensive back for BYU, said the demand for Cougar football does provide some perks. And if he were part of the decision making among athletics administrators, he would keep that up.
“If I’m putting myself in their shoes, I’m going to do anything for the football team,” Logan said. “It’s common sense.”
To anyone who says it’s unfair, Logan will tell them it’s justified.
“We get special treatment. But we bring in the most money,” Logan said. “I tell them it’s a reward more than a benefit. Then they pretty much just leave it alone after that. It just makes more sense.”
But the rewards the football team enjoys doesn’t bother Krysten Koval, a senior gymnast for BYU. She said she is grateful for football and its success.
“I’m OK with it,” Koval said. “In fact, we appreciate football, because they pull in so much money, we get additional money. Because whatever money they don’t use trickles down to other sports. We like that they get so much attention, because that means that we’ll get more money in the long run.”
Moody said those who understand sports would not be surprised by football’s heavy financial influence.
“All the student-athletes are taken care of equally, as far as support goes from our side,” Moody said. “And they live in the real world, so they know obviously that football’s on TV a lot more than some other even in another sport. That’s a perception that they all understand and appreciate that’s the life that we’re in.”
Because of the emphasis on football, maybe the best way for Cougar fans to support their favorite high-flying gymnast or game-saving goalie is to fill up LaVell Edwards Stadium every fall.
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