You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

College football teams are risky and expensive-and schools keep adding them

At many schools, the costs of football are starting to challenge the benefits. It's expensive, it doesn't always make money, many academic faculty resent it, and the ongoing debate over health risks and players' labor rights put universities in an awkward position.

Taken together, football could look like the kind of hassle a university president might try to avoid. Yet few do.

In the past eight years, 57 colleges and universities have started an NCAA football program. Alabama-Birmingham restored its team to the Football Bowl Subdivision. Another 11 joined the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA), and the rest are competing at lower levels-Divisions II or III.

For all but UAB, there's little money to be made from TV or ticket sales. In the past decade, annual football expenses at a typical FCS school have increased from less than $2 million to $3.5 million. In the same period, revenue has expanded from $430,000 to $1 million.

Middle-of-the-road FCS programs-a division that includes University of Maine, Colgate, Portland State-are losing millions on football altogether.

In spite of all this, East Tennessee State University still decided to add football in 2015. The team costs about $4 million to field, one-quarter of the overall department budget.

Encouraged by the school's president, students approved a $125 fee that would cover $2.8 million of the football team's costs.

"That was the only way we could do it," said Richard Sander, originally a consultant on the football revival and later hired as the school's athletic director. "It's much more than trying to create revenue, because it's not going to do it. There's no doubt about that."

ETSU, like most schools, sees advantages to football that may not show up on the balance sheet.

Football is thought to drive alumni donations and raise a school's profile beyond its immediate regional footprint, creating a better pool of prospective students. University officials also say it's a point of community pride and juices local businesses through such events as pep rallies and homecoming.

Of course, a focus on football isn't the only way to achieve those goals. According to the Council for Aid to Education, only three of the 10 schools that raised at least $500 million from alumni in 2015 have FBS football teams. The rest of the list is largely composed of academically excellent universities such as Harvard, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins.

The same is true of the schools with the highest rates of alumni giving. Only two -- Princeton University and Davidson College -- compete in NCAA Division I. The rest are smaller, top-flight liberal arts colleges such as Williams, Wellesley, and Carleton.

Other schools hitch their athletic wagon to another sport: men's basketball.

With smaller rosters and less equipment, it's cheaper to field and more competitive. The attention is also significant. Schools such as Gonzaga, Marquette, and Xavier owe their national reputations at least in part to the success of their basketball teams.

And insofar as anyone outside of Appalachia has heard of ETSU, it may be because of basketball. The Buccaneers regularly contend for a conference title and have gone to the NCAA tournament four times in the past 15 years.

ETSU has relied heavily on basketball. When Sander arrived in Johnson City, the Bucs were playing five or six "guarantee games" every year, getting paid for road games at basketball giants. That earned about $600,000 a year, but it also hobbled the team with a losing record early, turning off fans and demoralizing the athletes.

ETSU was damaging its most important sport just to support the others.

In the past eight years, 57 colleges and universities have started an NCAA football program. Football won't fully solve that problem. What it could do is take some of the pressure off basketball and raise overall morale around Buccaneers athletics.

"The university decided it was better for quality of life, better for branding, better for enrollment, and the expectation here in town is to have football," Sander said. "It's much more than trying to create revenue, because it's not going to do it. There's no doubt about that."

He's also clear that ETSU is entering into a precarious financial bargain with its new football program. The school had a football team for decades until, in 2003, it disbanded because the team was financially unsustainable.

An effort to bring it back in 2007 failed when students voted down a $50 fee increase to fund the program. All signs suggest that football is back to stay, but at what cost?

"Enrollment nationwide is trending down, so tuition gets raised, and that hits us by reducing student support and raising the cost of scholarships," Sander said.

"Throw in the rising cost of coaching salaries, health care, other things. Eventually you get to a point of, how can I survive? It makes me real nervous."

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Sports

Top-seeded Kerber stunned in first round of French Open 
Top-seeded Kerber stunned in first round of French Open 

Angelique Kerber became the first top-seeded women’s player in the Open era of tennis to lose in the first round of the French Open, falling 6-2, 6-2 to Ekaterina Makarova on Sunday.  >> Read more trending news Makarova was successful against Kerber’s serve and took advantage of the No. 1 seed’s numerous mistakes to earn...
Ex-jocks bring athleticism, diversity to NASCAR pit crews
Ex-jocks bring athleticism, diversity to NASCAR pit crews

Mike Metcalf grew up in Charlotte, played basketball and football at Charlotte Christian, and attended occasional Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers games. Charlotte Motor Speedway was about 30 minutes from his parents' home in south Charlotte, but might as well have been in another world. Metcalf was never a fan of racing ... until he made it...
Six-game Express winning streak snapped by Omaha

Garin Cecchini had three hits and scored two runs, and Luke Farrell allowed just three hits over seven innings as the Omaha Storm Chasers beat the Round Rock Express 10-0 on Saturday in Papillion, Neb. Farrell (5-2) picked up the win after he struck out eight and walked one. In the bottom of the first, Omaha grabbed the lead on a sacrifice fly by Raul...
Texas finally beats TCU to secure a spot in Big 12’s championship game
Texas finally beats TCU to secure a spot in Big 12’s championship game

OKLAHOMA CITY – For the record, Texas is 1-4 against TCU this season. The Longhorns, though, earned the win that matters the most. Michael Cantu homered and Blair Henley gave Texas six strong innings on the mound as the Longhorns beat TCU 9-3 in an elimination game at the Big 12 tournament on Saturday. Texas had lost its first four games against...
Strength in numbers boosts UT sprint relay team to nationals
Strength in numbers boosts UT sprint relay team to nationals

O’Brien Wasome didn’t have one of his better days on Saturday. But that didn’t prevent his fellow Longhorn sprinters from having one of theirs. Wasome, who recently had been handling the leadoff leg on Texas’ 400-meter relay in addition to his long jump and triple jump duties, didn’t come out of the blocks at the NCAA...
More Stories