HARTFORD, Conn. -- The deficit between reported expenses and revenues in UConn's athletic department rose slightly in the 2019 fiscal year, growing to about $42.3 million according to the financial statement sent to the NCAA.
The increase owed to, among other factors, an increase in university tuition (and thus scholarship costs); a $1.4 million decline in ticket sales; a decline in payouts from Learfield IMG College (which owns media and corporate sponsorship rights) of about $3 million; and a decline in league revenue, related to UConn's impending departure from the American Athletic Conference, of about $3 million.
Those costs were balanced partly by a reduction in operating costs, including payroll, of about $1 million and a rise in income from charitable contributions of about $4 million.
"The bottom-line figure is not a comprehensive illustration of the many ways in which UConn Athletics continues to work toward greater financial self-sufficiency over time," the university said in a statement. "Reducing the athletic subsidy to a level that is in line with our peers remains our long-term goal, and one that helps shape our decision-making process every day."
UConn's deficit, which is offset each year by student fees and a university subsidy, has become one of the largest in college sports, rising from about $15 million in 2011 to more than $40 million in 2018. In 2017, a report from the school's senate budgetary committee called the figure "unsustainable" and recommended a strategic plan to reduce it to 2010 levels by 2022 -- a goal that no longer appears within reach.
The deficit's increase over time has owed to various of factors, including the school's shift from the original Big East Conference to the AAC, which resulted in a drop in revenue. UConn's impending jump to the reconstituted Big East has already cost millions in fees and will cost more in the coming years, though administrators such as former president Susan Herbst and chief financial officer Scott Jordan have said the move will benefit the athletic department financially in the long term.
"In recent years, declining conference and media licensing revenue, along with rising costs, have widened the current deficit," UConn said. "As we have said in the past, the Division of Athletics is continually working to identify savings, drive up revenue, and address other factors within its control to help close this gap."
UConn said the deficit is expected to remain at a similar level 2020, as the school continues to pay for its move from the AAC to the Big East, but should improve in 2021 and beyond.
The school has already paid a chunk of its $17 million AAC exit fee and will pay another lump sum this coming year, followed by smaller $1 million payments each year through 2026. After paying a $3.5 million entry fee to join the Big East, UConn's revenue from that conference will increase gradually over the coming years.
Though the athletic department's deficit remains one of the highest in the nation, the figure is, in some ways, less dramatic than "$42 million" makes it sound. Sports economists, note that the "expenses" side of a school's ledger typically counts each scholarship as costing the full rate of tuition, even though money doesn't actually change hands when athletes attend school for free. Additionally, UConn pays more than $3.5 million in rent each year to the publicly run Capital Region Development Authority -- money that effectively returns to the department through state subsidies to the university.
University officials also point out that UConn derives intangible benefits from a robust athletic department, such as school spirit and alumni engagement. A 2019 Courant analysis found that applications to the school spike following years when the men's and women's basketball programs have had successful seasons. Still, athletic director David Benedict has acknowledged the need to decrease the deficit, including the possibility of cutting some less profitable sports.
At a recent university senate meeting, several senators expressed concern about the enduring deficit, with one noting that the athletic department has lost more and more money since landing in the AAC in 2013. Jordan, the chief financial officer, replied that UConn "is moving in the right direction" with its return to the Big East.
Football, which suffered the biggest hit from the decline in conference revenue, was once again UConn's most costly program in 2019, with $16.6 in reported expenses against $3.3 in revenue. Men's basketball cost $9.9 million and generated $6 million, while women's basketball cost $8 million and generated $4.5 million. The remaining sports together cost $25.8 million and generated $2.8 million.
The athletic department's largest categories of revenue were "royalties, licensing, advertising and sponsorships" ($11.2 million) and ticket sales ($7.7 million), while its largest expenses were coaching salaries ($18 million) and athletic student aid ($17.7 million).
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