If you’ve ever wondered why universities are constantly switching conferences, the answer is simple: Money. If a school is hoping to generate the highest possible amount of revenue from its athletics, then it always pays to be among the major players in the land of college sports. For if you were under the impression that all conferences were created equal — from a financial standpoint, that is — you’d be sorely mistaken. And Forbes has the numbers to prove it.
As its done in years past, Forbes has crunched the numbers to see how college conferences compare to one another with regard to how much revenue they’ve generated. Looking at the 2014-15 fiscal year, Forbes analyzed the figures according to the three biggest revenue streams in college sports: football bowl games, the NCAA Tournament and conference TV deals.
“Bowl game revenue is a combination of money from the College Football Playoff, which distributed some $400 million among ten conferences last year, and contract bowls,” writes Forbes staff member Chris Smith. “The NCAA Tournament’s prize money system operates on a six-year rolling period, with conferences receiving around $250,000 per tournament game played over the last six seasons.”
With regard to the TV money — which comes from massive rights fees and, occasionally, profit sharing from conference network partners — Forbes did not average out the annual payout of television contracts, but rather estimated the TV revenue that was earned during the 2014-15 fiscal year.
While the major conferences all generated large quantities of money over the last year, it’s clear that some helped their individual member schools to bank more than the rest. And since it’s always interesting to see why colleges consistently jockey for position as if this was a real-life Game of Thrones, we decided to fill in the blanks by presenting you with the five most valuable conferences in college sports.
- Total per member school: $22.1 million
- Total: $331 million
- Bowl games: $98 million
- NCAA Tournament: $21 million
- TV deals: $212 million
After watching the 2015 NCAA Tournament, there was no doubt the Duke Blue Devils proved themselves to be college basketball’s finest team. Yet, even with that individual victory, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) only managed to come in as the fifth most valuable conference in all of college sports.
The majority of the ACC’s money came from it’s $212 million in TV deals, followed by the $98 million associated with Bowl games and $21 million from appearances and games in the NCAA tournament. Under normal circumstances, it’s never fun to come in fifth place. However, there’s no shame in pulling in a total of $331 million over the last year, with each member school getting $22.1 million.
4. Big 12
- Total per member school: $25.3 million
- Total: $253 million
- Bowl games: $72 million
- NCAA Tournament: $19 million
- TV deals: $162 million
The Big 12 Conference earned $162 million in TV money, $72 million from Bowl games, and $19 million from its participation in the NCAA tournament. With $253 million in total revenue, the Big 12 Conference was actually the lowest earner of all the Power 5 Conferences.
Yet, since the conference in only made up of 10 members, each school comes away with $25.3 million a piece when the total purse is divided. This is good enough to place the Big 12 at No. 4 on the most valuable conference list.
- Total per member school: $25.5 million
- Total: $307 million
- Bowl games: $81 million
- NCAA Tournament: $11 million
- TV deals: $215 million
The total revenue generate by the Pac-12 Conference in the past year was $307 million. As it was with most conferences, the bulk of the earnings came from lucrative TV deals. In the case of the Pac-12, that number was $215 million.
On top of that, the conference generate $81 million from Bowl games — props to the Oregon Ducks — and $11 million from the NCAA tournament. With the Pac 12 Conference generating $25.5 million per school, it was able to narrowly top the Big 12 as the third most valuable conference in the land.
2. Big Ten
- Total per member school: $27.6 million
- Total: $386 million
- Bowl games: $86 million
- NCAA Tournament: $21 million
- TV deals: $279 million
Based on their on-the-field performances this past year, it clear the members of the Big Ten Conference are not to be trifled with. The Ohio State Buckeyes captured the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship and the conference also sent two schools to the Final Four of this year’s NCAA tournament, with Wisconsin falling just short of cutting down the nets.
The Big Ten Conference balls hard and that’s why it brings in big bucks. Its total revenue of $386 million was second among the other conferences, it pulled in $21 million from the NCAA tournament, $86 from Bowl games, and $279 million from TV deals (21% of the total TV money from last year, according to Forbes).
By bringing in $27.6 million per member school, the Big Ten Conference came in as the second most valuable conference in the entire country. We have a feeling its place among the elite is firmly secured.
- Total per member school: $34 million
- Total: $476 million
- Bowl games: $112 million
- NCAA Tournament: $17 million
- TV deals: $347 million
We knew the Southeastern Conference (SEC) was in the business of making money, but now we’re firmly aware of just how profitable this conference truly is. In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the SEC pulled in a whopping $476 million in total revenue, with $112 million coming from Bowl games — $64 million from the College Football Playoff alone — and $17 million coming from the NCAA tournament.
Of course, the real moneymaker is television. And in that respect, nobody did it better than the SEC. This conference raked in $347 million in TV deal; a number which accounted for 23% of the $1.3 billion dollars generated from TV money alone. With a total revenue per member school of $34 million, the SEC is far and away the most valuable conference in college sports.
For a complete look at Forbes’ list of the most valuable conferences in college sports, click here.