SEC distributed $741 million to schools in 2022-23: What it means for college sports landscape



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The SEC is closing in on being a billion-dollar conference: Revenues continued to go up in the most recent fiscal year and are expected to keep climbing amid a new TV deal, College Football Playoff expansion and the addition of Texas and Oklahoma.

The SEC announced Thursday that it distributed $741 million to its 14 schools in the 2022-23 fiscal year, meaning an average payout of $51.2 million. That’s up from the average payout of $49.9 million during the previous fiscal year.

That revenue comes mainly from television deals — CBS and ESPN up until this year — football bowl games, the Playoff, the SEC Championship Game, the SEC men’s basketball tournament and NCAA championships.

The current fiscal year largely will feature the same sources of revenue, so the average payout may only go up slightly. But starting with the 2024-25 fiscal year, the new TV deal with ESPN will kick in, and it’s expected to be worth around $811 million alone. There will be the 12-team Playoff, which will pay out more in television and other revenue to all conferences. And the addition of the Longhorns and Sooners should help attendance and other revenue.

The SEC still would be short of the Big Ten, with its new $1.1 billion TV deal and addition of four schools (USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington). But the two conferences are by far the richest in college sports, a big reason they announced last week they were teaming up to form an “advisory council” to work on the ongoing issues in college athletics.

“We’re running out of time,” Georgia president Jere Morehead said last week. “What you see every day, somebody else files a lawsuit about something that they’re unhappy with. I don’t think litigation is the solution here, but that’s become the common practice now of institutions and student athletes, and state attorney generals and the like. I think we are fast running out of runway. And so I’m just pleased that those two commissioners are going to work closely together, along with other leaders in both conferences, to look for solutions.”

Why the revenue is important in the long term

There is so much uncertainty about what the financial model will be for college sports in the upcoming years. Right now, the schools aren’t directly paying players beyond scholarships, room and board, cost of attendance and Alston payments; with totals ranging from the high-$20,000s to the high-$40,000s at a school like Georgia, for instance, depending on whether the player is from the state or out of state.

But there are various court cases and momentum in general that could force schools to make athletes employees and/or engage in revenue sharing.

The SEC, along with the Big Ten, looks positioned to deal with all that, or at least more than the rest of the sport. But it would still be a dent in the bottom lines; right now the payment to players in the form of NIL is being footed by businesses who offer endorsements and fans who donate to collectives.

The SEC schedule and money

The addition of a ninth conference football game was long expected because the SEC thought it would mean more money from ESPN. (The new deal, which kicks in this summer, was announced in December of 2020, seven months before Oklahoma and Texas announced they were joining.) But ESPN, dealing with financial constraints, has not upped the ante beyond the “pro rata” amount, which is essentially taking the average payout per school and increasing it by two.

The SEC has hoped that because Oklahoma and Texas are marquee brands and because eight more conference games would bring better ratings, ESPN would go beyond the original contract. But so far that hasn’t happened, and the SEC is sticking with eight games, at least for 2024.

Still, even apart from the TV deal, another conference game would boost attendance and concession revenue at many schools. But it would mean one less home game per year for half the league and risk one more loss, so many of the lower-revenue teams have resisted.

There was speculation that the Big Ten-SEC partnership was what ultimately would lead to football breaking away from the other sports and the NCAA or the two leagues forming a super-league alliance. Morehead, speaking last week, downplayed that.

“I haven’t heard anything of that nature,” Morehead said. “I’ve just heard this is going to be an effort to get together on solutions to major problems. I wouldn’t put more into it than an effort to address issues and seek solutions.”

(Kevin Langley / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)





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