College sports programs, particularly in the United States, have become huge fundraisers of sorts for many of the country's most prestigious universities. Many of these programs use revenue generated by their sports teams to fund things like construction projects for new buildings on campuses, payouts for salaries of professors and deans, and even expenses associated with keeping all programs compliant with such laws as Title IX.
Major sports programs that are not profitable for their school will often run the risk of being cancelled. Schools will try to trim expenses as much as possible while staying within the bounds of NCAA regulations.
For this reason, programs have taken extreme measures to earn revenue and avoid running into financial problems. For instance, Savannah State received $860,000 in 2012 to play football games against Oklahoma State and Florida State. This was in spite of the Tigers struggling at the FCS level and Florida State being favoured by a ridiculous 70.5 points. The Tigers might have been embarrassed with an 84-0 loss to the Cowboys and a 55-0 loss to the Seminoles before the game was called on a weather emergency, but the school did get the revenue it desperately needed.
Some schools, most notably schools that compete in the FBS level of college football, are capable of making more money than others. This is often thanks to external factors like strong support from the school's alumni (in the form of generous donations), sales of tickets and other items relating to their teams and even television contracts (depending on the size of their fanbase).
This listing of the ten most profitable college sports programs covers the amounts of revenue that these schools generated over the course of the 2012-13 season. By looking at these numbers, it's clear that the athletic programs for these schools are critical to keeping many functions at their schools operational. Some of these places could push the quarter-billion mark in the near future as their revenue continues to grow, bolstered by the undisputed king of all college sports, football.
Note: Some schools do not publish their information to the public. This is particularly the case with Notre Dame, Stanford and Duke.
10 University of Auburn - $106 million
The University of Auburn has been noted as the University of Alabama's hated rival for decades. The $35.7 million that the Tigers get from licensing and rights contracts for television coverage, mostly with the SEC's deal with CBS, has brought the Tigers into the top ten with its total revenue of $106 million. Students themselves have paid $4.2 million in fees to cover operation of the athletic programs here.
9 Univeristy of Oklahoma - $106.5 million
The University of Oklahoma has continued to stay in the Big XII in despite the many rumours of the school leaving for the SEC that have come and gone over the years. The Sooners (the name given to all 19 of the school's men and women's sports teams) generated $106.5 million this past year, thanks in part to changes in the Big XII's television contracts. The Sooners had made $81 million in 2009, and the University of Oklahoma was Sports Illustrated's third-best sports program in 2002.
8 Pennsylvania State - $108 million
Penn State was hit with a $60 million fine and a four-year football postseason ban as a result of a child abuse scandal that rocked the school's football program and cost Joe Paterno his coaching job in 2012. This hurt the school's athletic finances as attendance to football games has declined significantly. As a result, the revenues for the university have diminished by $8 million from 2011 to 2012. Even though the school is still recovering from the shocking controversy, the Nittany Lions programs made $108 million this past year.
7 Louisiana State University - $114.7 million
LSU does not charge any student fees to support its athletic programs. Instead, it focuses on contributions from alumni, licensing profits and ticket sales to get to its current total revenue of $114.7 million for the past year. However, the school spent a little more than $101 million financing its functions, keeping the total profit that the Tigers get for their activities from being as large as it could be. Still, from a competition standpoint, the program's winning percentage ranks among the best in college sports.
6 Texas A&M - $119.7 million
Texas A&M University has been riding on of the school's sudden rise in football, making $35 million in ticket sales from the past year. Its move into the SEC has particularly helped to get the school some extra money from television contracts associated with the league. The Aggies also re-introduced the "Southwestern Classic" game against rival Arkansas. The athletic department has generated a profit of around $38 million when expenses and operation costs are factored in.
5 University of Florida - $120 million
The University of Florida got $120 million in revenue last year. $42 million came from licensing and rights profits while $46 million was contributed to the school from its alumni and other parties. Some subsidies are also given to the school by the state of Florida. The school is getting around $4.5 million from the state to support many of the functions that it holds every year including those of its famous Gators football team which by itself generated $47 million. The Gators have the third-best-selling merchandise in college football behind Texas and Alabama.
4 University of Alabama - $125 million
The University of Alabama earned $125 million in revenue by the end of last season. The Crimson Tide's BCS championship football team has particularly helped the school, but they benefit from large amounts of donations from alumni and sponsors. The school gets around $30 million from its alumni each year and another $30 million from ticket sales throughout the season. The school's athletic department also contributed $6.5 million to various academic programs last year.
3 University of Michigan - $140.1 million
The University of Michigan makes around $45 million in revenue from ticket sales to its events. Not surprisingly, most of it comes from the school's football team. Michigan Stadium can fit an impressive 109,901 people but the Wolverines often draw more than that, with fans being relegated to standing areas. The Wolverines also collect around $12 million a year for advertising and branding rights. Today the school has a $104.1 million revenue total, $47 million of that coming from football.
2 Ohio State University - $142 million
Ohio State University has been able to raise a massive amount of money for its athletic department thanks to its famed football program. The Buckeyes can draw more than the 102,329 people that Ohio Stadium can fit on Saturdays during the fall in Columbus. This has brought in $142 million in yearly revenue to the university. Quite impressive for a stadium that cost $19 million to build if you adjust $1.34 million 1921 dollars to today's value. The stadium was originally built without any school funds but was expanded three times in 1948, 1991 and 2001.
1 University of Texas - $163.3 million
The University of Texas has become highly successful with $163.3 million in revenue generated last year. This was enough to create a $25 million operating profit for the university's athletic department. While the successes of the Longhorns on the field has helped and the size of the Austin market has ensured a large audience, a new contract with ESPN to create its own television sports network, aptly named the Longhorn Network, has been a key factor in developing revenue for the school. University of Texas does not collect student fees for its athletic programs.