BOGACZYK: Bottom Line Better for Herd in 'New' C-USA|
Feb. 6, 2014
BY JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It's been 13 months since I threw out the opinion - backed by the numbers - that Marshall athletics should be more competitive in Conference USA after the league realignment that will leave 14 all-sports members.
Well, the 2013-14 sports year is more than half-finished, and there's nothing in the federal figures to change that notion on the Herd's potential in a C-USA that by next season will have nine "new" teams to go with five incumbents, including Marshall.
A year ago in this space, I dug out 20 university reports for current and future C-USA members from the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act (EADA) database (ope.ed.gov/athletics). Athletic departments at the nation's colleges and universities that receive Title IX funding are required by the federal government to file these forms annually.
Those forms filed in 2012 - with expenses and revenues for the 2011-12 school year, showed Memphis, SMU, UCF, East Carolina and Houston had the five largest expense numbers - actual budgets. Four of those five are gone from C-USA to the AAC this season, with ECU, Tulsa (No. 6) and Tulane (No. 8) to follow this June.
The tilt of C-USA toward the East a bit with the addition of a second Florida school (FIU and FAU replacing UCF), Old Dominion, Charlotte and Middle Tennessee is a plus for the Herd. When all is said and done, the Herd will be in a C-USA division with five of seven teams in the Eastern time zone. But for all of the talk about the conference becoming more "friendly" to the Herd through geography and travel, I think the bottom line might make the most difference.
So, I plugged in the eight new C-USA members for 2013-14, plus Western Kentucky, which will come aboard next season. I used the most recent expenses figures, from the 2012-13 EADA filings, for total athletics, football and men's basketball.
Here's what the numbers show on where the Herd stood, and now stands:
Marshall's athletics expenses rose from $24.021 million to $25.724 million in the EADA reports.
But the major reason the Herd should be more competitive in its revamped conference is because Marshall fits better than it does in a league with UCF, which had a 2012-13 filing of $46.9 million, or East Carolina, which spent almost $10 million more than the Herd on athletics last year. There are those in Herd Nation who want Marshall to "move up" - supposedly - as UCF and Memphis did, as ECU is about to do.
The American is in the same College Football Playoff revenue neighborhood with C-USA, the Mountain West, Sun Belt and Mid-American. No more BCS for the erstwhile Big East football bunch.
The AAC and C-USA are in the same bowl sphere now. They're all playing football for that one Playoff berth that goes to the so-called "Group of Five" - where the money is about four times what those schools were getting from the BCS.
Yes, the AAC has a superior TV package because it has more exposure through its deal with ESPN (and CBS for basketball), so it will get a few more bucks that way than C-USA will get from its Fox and CBS Sports Network contracts - but not a lot -- about $400,000 per school annually.
And for those of you still pining for the good ol' days in the MAC? Consider that the three football teams from that league that Marshall will face in non-conference games in 2014 - Ohio, Miami and Akron - all have higher budgets than does the Herd, ranging from $26.5 million to nearly $29 million.
There are numbers on the C-USA chart that will grow, too. Old Dominion's football number was from a second-to-last FCS season. The Monarchs step to FBS play with their first C-USA schedule this coming season.
Charlotte's $2.8 million football budget was for the 49ers' start-up year, before they played a game. They still have another FCS season to go, before C-USA grows from 13 to 14 football members with the school in 2015-16. That $2.8 million probably will triple by then.
So, why should this number-crunching matter to the Herd?
It can only enhance competitiveness for Marshall, as will the new Indoor Athletic Facility. As Herd Athletic Director Mike Hamrick continues to point out, financially, as in facilities, the Herd is playing catch-up, no matter whether you're talking C-USA present or future.
Marshall needs to sell more season football tickets. A 10-4 season and Military Bowl victory over Maryland (which had 2012-13 football expenses of $11.2 million and a total budget of $57.8 million, by the way) gives the Herd the opportunity to do just that. The reseating and reparking plans among Big Green members will give MU a needed boost, too.
It also helps that the realigned C-USA grouping doesn't have as much money to spend as some of the Herd's league foes of the recent past. The schools that stayed in C-USA - Marshall, Rice, UAB, Southern Miss, UTEP - also will realize a short-term revenue gain from the exit fees paid by the former schools and entrance fees from the nine newcomers.
While some schools figure their EADA filings differently - some including state monies, for example, others do not - the numbers do paint a pretty accurate picture of the company you keep.
For example, while the men's basketball expenditures at UTEP of $3.447 million - now tops in C-USA expenses - are $1 million more than at Marshall, at least everyone isn't trying to play against what was $7.5 million at former C-USA kingpin Memphis.
And Rice may have spent at least $2 million more on football than the next spender in C-USA (UTEP), but the Owls' $10.73 million are dwarfed by the $15.08 million that former member UCF spent in the same 2012-13 school year as it finished C-USA membership.
Anyway, it's about more than how you play and coach. It's also what you spend -- or can afford to spend.
So, as I wrote on this subject a year ago ... Other than the green-backed bottom line, what's the other bottom line in major college athletics? What's the one thing everybody wants to do, the thing everybody feels much better about when it happens?
Marshall has a much better chance to do that in a C-USA where the dollars make more sense to the Herd.
The bottom lines in C-USA
A look at athletic expenditures in 2012-13 for current Conference USA schools (and 2014-15 entrant Western Kentucky) from filings to the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act database (numbers in millions, rounded off):