There were three stories this week that shed light on the impact of the economy on college sports;
1. Only 14 of 120 Bowl Subdivision schools made money in 2009, down from 25.
2. Colorado can't leave the Big 12 for the Pac-10 yet because they have to negotiate a buyout of at least $9 million.
3. Colorado is getting $1.4 million for the honor of Ohio State kicking their collective asses at Columbus in 2011.
While the 14 teams looks bad, in some cases schools set their athletic departments as non-profits; spending as much as they take in every season. A productive bowl season might mean new volleyball uniforms. But it is good business to be in the black each season to prepare for down years and slumping local or national economies.
In the case of Florida, which is run with a separate budget and governance from the University of Florida, academic funding is not used for sports. However, students pay an "athletic fee" (about $46 per student) to subsidize sports. At FSU, it's $141 per student at a much smaller school. With Bright Futures, you can make the case that your state-funded scholarship does fund sports. The only difference between UF and FSU is that FSU will dip into their state-funded academic budget for sports (renovations to Doak Campbell Stadium, paying for appealing NCAA penalties), while UF does not.
The economy is always a big topic of conversation, especially in that it appears the recession will last longer in Florida than in other states. It is not fun mixing the economy with sports, but that is the reason why Florida plays Miami-Ohio, USF and Appalachian State this season. Home games mean buckets of cash, since we would pay to see UF play a girls school. Not only would we buy tickets, but hotel rooms, food at Swamp and drinks at Lillian's. We are not fans, but potential customers on gamedays.
While we are not to the point where UF fans avoid de-facto preseason games, in the way NFL fans avoid attending real preseason games, will we get to that point? Will we ever get tired of opening the season with a Sun Belt or MAC team and finishing with a D-1AA team? Probably not. But it is apparent by Miami's and Ohio State's recent adventurous schedules that maybe their fans have tired of beating up on the Sisters of the Poor. Perhaps Georgia and LSU too, considering their recent trips to the west.
Florida has so much money, Jeremy Foley goes home to a pool filled with money. Do not think all of UF is immune, though. Look at the recent UF basketball schedule; Ohio State, at UCF (in the new Orlando Arena), American (in DC), Kansas State (in Sunrise) and Rhode Island. With three of those games, UF would make more money than if the game was in Gainesville. The other two are a lot more exciting than Stetson and Florida-Gulf Coast. The games recently played in Tampa and Jacksonville were not just for fun. It was to make money.
It might take an epic economic collapse in Florida (golf courses in foreclosure too?) before we see empty seats at Gator football games. Even then, UF probably has enough money to survive that or Governor Rick Scott. We should be happy that UF doesn't need to pay Colorado for a home game to sell tickets, or a $1.4 million payout to go on the road. But we should be worried if it does happen.