Monday promises to be among the great days in Utah State University sports history, when the Aggies officially join the Mountain West Conference. It will bring increased revenue, along with prestige.
But it also portends a sea change in competition, both on the field and on the balance sheets. In at least one major way, it’s an even wider leap than Utah’s move to the Pac-12 in 2011: on the accounting ledgers.
Get ready, Aggie fans. Joining the MWC is the right thing, but keeping up with the neighbors — including those with bright blue lawns — will be tough. USU faces the ultimate challenge of college athletics, recognizing what it is without settling for where it is.
That’s something the Utes have been wrestling with since realignment turned football on its ear.
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Like everything else, sports are largely about money.
A recent USA Today report, detailing revenues of every college athletic program, had USU ranked 108th in 2012 with $21.06 million in income. While that’s on the low end of schools that play at the FBS level, it’s midway among colleges overall. For instance, Utah Valley University — a non-football school — took in just over $9 million last year.
But there’s no denying the step to the Mountain West will be significant. Using last year’s revenue as a base, and adding $1.66 million in expected MWC television monies, that would put the Aggies at $22.72 million — still second lowest in the conference. Nevada brought in $21.53 million last season.
Though USU’s revenue next year could also be helped by increased ticket sales, it would nevertheless be roughly half Boise State’s, the team with the sky-colored turf.
Using similar projections, Utah will make approximately $46.34 million next year, ahead of only Washington State’s $42.73 million in Pac-12 revenue. But Utah doesn’t get a full share of TV revenue until 2014-15. By then it can expect income of nearly $51.84 million. That would still rank Utah 11th out of 12 conference schools, roughly $5 million behind Colorado. (Stanford and USC numbers aren’t public record).
Utah’s take would be approximately 55 percent of Oregon’s, which made nearly $95 million last year. By comparison, USU will only have an estimated 52 percent of BSU’s revenue ($43.44 million), 51 percent of Air Force’s ($44.49 million) and less than 39 percent of UNLV’s ($58.81 million).
USU’s leap to the MWC is even bigger than Utah’s was to the Pac-12, by that measurement.
“Based on your data you just gave me, you’d be hard pressed to win an argument that it’s much different,” USU coach Matt Wells said. “It’s probably just as big.”
However, Wells notes a point of pride at USU.
“There are probably a lot of correlations,” Wells said. “But I will tell you this: We do more with less at USU than anyplace I’ve been.”
It’s a skill the Aggies will want to keep sharp.
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If it’s any comfort to USU fans, their teams have fared better on the field than Utah’s. Their all-time record against the MWC is 113-142-7 (.443). Utah is 83-131-6 against the Pac-12 (.387).
Both Utah and USU are in upgrading phases, Utah with new football offices and other facility improvements, while USU is working on a strength and conditioning center and a basketball practice gymnasium.
USU understands the uptick in competition. There are no Idahos or New Mexico States on the schedule this year, just a non-conference game with Weber State on Sept. 14. The Aggies play two Pac-12 teams (Utah, USC), as well as BYU. The “assessment” game against BSU is Oct. 12 at Romney Stadium.
Most likely the Big Blue will fare in the MWC about the way Utah has fared in the Pac-12. Self-esteem improves. Ticket sales increase. Reputations flourish. But just as in divorce litigation, business, or beauty enhancement, there always seems to be one overriding factor: He who has the most money has the best chance to win.
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