The University of Texas generated $219 million in athletics revenue in Fiscal Year 2018.
The University of Oregon: $122 million.
Those numbers jumped out as I researched athletic department finances this week. Texas has the largest budget of any college athletic program in the nation. Oregon came in at No. 1 as recently as 2014 — primarily because of a $95 million spike related to the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex — and was No. 12 in the most recent rankings.
Both schools derive the lion’s share of their revenue from football: 66 percent for the Longhorns, 58 percent for the Ducks.
Both turned a profit in men’s basketball, and both lost money on women’s sports. Their balance sheets follow most of the same trend lines, with the exception of a single sport.
Texas baseball turned a $1.6 million profit in 2018, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Oregon baseball ran a $2.3 million deficit.
I bring up these numbers as context in the ongoing discussion about softball coach Mike White, whose move from Eugene to Austin continues to reverberate. Nine players have left Oregon’s roster since his departure, sparking outrage and finger-pointing among fans of the program.
Some people blame White for chasing a bigger paycheck. Some blame Oregon for shortchanging one of its most successful coaches. Some blame the players for bailing on their school, and some blame new coach Melyssa Lombardi’s culture change.
I’m not here to change anyone’s opinion, but I think it’s important to understand the financial context of these decisions.
The resource gap between Oregon and Texas is significant. That doesn’t mean the Ducks couldn’t have paid White’s price, but it means they would have felt the financial hit more acutely.
White’s situation represents the increasingly difficult decisions facing athletic directors in the Pac-12. We know the Pac-12 is falling behind its peers in conference media revenue. As the gap widens, Pac-12 schools will have to make tough decisions about where to invest and where to pull back.
Texas received a $36.5 million payout from the Big 12 in 2018, per media reports, plus $15 million or so in revenue from the Longhorn Network. Oregon listed $23 million in media revenue for FY18, plus another $9 million or so from the Pac-12 and NCAA.
Oregon is in a better position than most schools to handle that challenge. But the Ducks aren’t going to match a school like Texas dollar for dollar, which could mean some tough choices about which sports thrive and which ones wither.
It’s easy to look at money spent on football and assume there’s plenty to go around. And in absolute terms, that’s true: A school could hire a top-notch softball coach for roughly the same salary as the 10th assistant on its football staff.
The moment football begins to slip, however, it imperils the stability of the entire department. Oregon football turned a $42 million profit in 2018, money that subsidized the Ducks’ other programs. No school can afford to kill the cash cow for the sake of feeding other sports.
I’d love to see a slowdown in the college football arms race and a move toward more reasonable coaching salaries. But as long as schools continue reaping enormous profits from football and losing money on almost everything else, they’re going to spend whatever it takes to remain competitive.
That takes us back to the dilemma I mentioned in a previous column. Should schools compensate coaches based on how many games they win, or how much money they generate?
That answer is a combination of both, of course. A moderately successful football coach will always earn more than a championsip-caliber softball coach. But when a championship-caliber softball coach earns less than an underperforming coach in another non-revenue sport, that’s when you have an issue.
Which takes us back to the statistic I quoted at the top of this column. Rather than comparing sports in absolute monetary terms, it makes sense to compare them in terms of efficiency, both financially and competitively. And when you do that, one sport at Oregon sticks out as a chronic underperformer.
I'll have more on that next week.