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Mid-American Conference athletic revenue and expenses released

Mid-American Conference programs are at the bottom of the ladder in the college sports arms race. In this high dollar world of champagne tastes, MAC programs function on a beer budget on the backs of their students.

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Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Remember that time you were sitting at work and wondering how much your favorite Mid-American Conference member institution made and spent on their athletic program? Well hold your breath no longer since USA Today released the 2014-2015 athletic budget database today.

For fans of the MAC and its member institutions, today's release shouldn't reveal shocking information. MAC programs, on the whole, are largely underfunded in comparison to their Power 5 Jones' that they are attempting to keep up with. For example, my alma mater, Ball State University, has a total revenue of $22,800,600. Ball State students made headlines with their "We Want Bama" sign on Gameday. Alabama clocked in with a staggering revenue figure of $148,911,674. Ball State shouldn't want any part of Bama. Ball State should want some of their money. That's Madoff-esque levels of riches and no old person had to get fleeced for it. Some teams have all the luck.

The relatively low revenue isn't just limited to the Fighting Cardinals, though. Let's take a quick gander at our MAC gaggle. It can't be that bad, can it?

Team Revenue Expenses
Akron Zips $31,771,467 $34,070,009
Ball State Cardinals $22,800,600 $25,495,662
Bowling Green Falcons $21,824,966 $21,823,070
Buffalo Bulls $32,181,552 $31,909,540
Central Michigan Chippewas $27,862,443 $28,491,818
Eastern Michigan Eagles $33,956,233 $33,956,234
Kent State Golden Flashes $25,908,848 $26,291,980
Miami RedHawks $33,119,460 $32,756,388
Northern Illinois Huskies $27,634,930 $27,276,559
Ohio Bobcats $28,709,413 $27,110,443
Toledo Rockets $26,503,340 $29,902,989
Western Michigan Broncos $34,698,711 $33,255,611

Well, that's not great. The sheer tonnage of the thoughts I have on the above would need a team of oxen to tow them along, but let's try to hit the high points:

  • Not to sound like an Old Spice commercial, but look at the expense category, then back to the names, then back to the expense totals, then back to the names. There are some schools in there that I may want to send to Dave Ramsey's budgeting classes. Some of our conference members are doing less with more. And just so we're clear, I'm talking about you, Eastern Michigan and Akron.
  • Accountants in our MAC programs must have the best actuarial tables known to man as in some cases above, Bowling Green for example, it looks like there's about a $900 profit. They must have used the double coupons the last time they went supply shopping. Imagine the fuel points! That's not reality. No MAC program turns a real profit. That's not a surprise. How they balance the books is not only surprising, but also a little disconcerting.

The short answer for the accounting ins and outs is that its basically a shell game where money comes and goes not quite as line-item as we all use in our home budgets. There's a plethora of pots, most of which are sliced up and shared among numerous departments and offices across campus. Every MAC school, and almost every Power 5 school also, is operating their athletic program at a loss. How they pay the checks, buy the jerseys, and for lack of a better metaphor, make the sausage, is through a little thing called student subsidies.

When Johnny or Suzy heads off to old State U, it's sort of an unspoken (or in some cases explicit through fees and charges) understanding that part of their dollars tossed into the school is going to fund the athletic program. That's not completely abnormal. Student dollars fund lots of things on the campus that don't directly impact their own education. The salaries of the people that trim the trees, the fresh coat of paint on the President's house, and a whole host of other institutional priorities. In the MAC, it's just that a heaping helping of the athletic department revenues are subsidized by that pot.

Team Subsidy Amount Percent Subsidy
Akron $22,118,580 69.62%
Ball State $17,177,535 75.34%
Bowling Green $12,907,708 59.14%
Buffalo $24,353,178 75.67%
Central Michigan $19,408,633 69.66%
Eastern Michigan $27,309,988 80.43%
Kent State $19,204,708 74.12%
Miami $23,857,893 72.04%
Northern Illinois $17,721,433 64.13%
Ohio $18,810,082 65.52%
Toledo $15,267,544 57.61%
Western Michigan $25,839,878 74.47%

The athletic detractors will tell you that given the current economies across the country where institutions of higher education are shutting down that any sort of student subsidy or institutional support is money misspent. The athletic fans will say that there are immeasurable benefits to athletics like enrollment increases, alumni support, advancement donations, and a whole host of institutional benefits. Conveniently, or inconveniently as the case may be depending on your camp, those things can't be quantified.

What is less of a debate is how the MAC pales in comparison to its in-state colleagues from P5 conferences. Take Bowling Green, for example. At $21,824,966 of revenue they are outpaced by Ohio State ($167,000,000+) more than seven times over. For the record, they are also surpassed by athletic behemoths like Towson, Coastal Carolina, and Cal Poly. It would be humorous if it weren't so sad.

In the MAC, there are countless fan bases that grumble and moan about a lack of success, a lack of athletic prowess, and an alleged lack of institutional support. At Ball State, fans (myself included) have bemoaned the lack of an indoor practice facility for years. At some point, reality trumps want and we may have to be okay with our champagne tastes outpacing our beer budget revenue.