The Take On West Virginia’s Rake Of $34.8 Million
By Matt Keller
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Big 12 announced revenue shares of $34.8 million per school last Friday. What does that number mean for West Virginia, and conference security as a whole?
First, the $34.8 million is derived from a combination of broadcast revenue and postseason earnings in football (bowl games) and basketball (NCAA Tournament). Unlike some other conferences, however, the Big 12 does not control the individual team rights for Tier 3 broadcasts. For WVU, that nets an additional $6 million plus annually from IMG, putting the athletic department at approximately $41 million this year alone after seasons of partial shares due to new conference membership.
So what does this ultimately accomplish? First, it gives West Virginia a financial security and ability that it has never before possessed. In its first Big 12 season, in 2012-13, the university earned $10,354,499 in conference revenue. That figure alone was a four percent increase from the final season in the Big East despite WVU receiving just a 50 percent share because of the four-year phase in program.
That the Mountaineers still made more money with a half share in the Big 12 than they did with a full share in the Big East is telling. And it shows in the catch up game the facilities were forced to play in everything from Milan Puskar Stadium and the Coliseum to a new baseball field and upgrades to other varsity sports – many of which still remain woefully behind.
From that first payout in 2013, the numbers have continued to steadily increase. In WVU’s third season in the Big 12, in 2014-15, it received an 84 percent share for $23 million. That’s a jump of 50 percent over just two years, and a reversal of the finances of former Big East rivals that joined leagues like the American Athletic Conference. Under the new College Football Playoff structure adopted in 2014, the AAC lost 45 percent ($12.7) million of its $27.9 million revenues in 2015 after it lost its Power Five status. It managed to secure just $15-plus million overall, meaning WVU was taking in $8 million more as an individual school than the entire AAC, which was essentially a rebrand of what remained of Big East football.
That’s remarkable, and the biggest reason West Virginia’s athletic program remains economically viable, and its ability to compete nationally feasible. There was simply no way for that to happen sans Power Five status, and now the Mountaineers might have the best of both worlds. Not only does the Big 12 share a legit piece of that broadcast and CFP pie, it also, in turn, splits it among fewer members than any other major conference.
That means a larger per-member payout, percentage-wise, than other conferences and gets Big 12 schools within striking distance of the SEC and Big 10, which have led the revenue battle for the better part of the last decade. SEC schools took in $40-plus million each in the 2016 fiscal year, but the recent jump by the Big 12 closed a gap that was once at $9.4 million as recently as 2014-15. That should somewhat placate the wondering eyes of Texas and Oklahoma.
Combined with a grant of rights contract that runs through the 2025 season (a 13-year, $2.6 billion media rights agreement with ESPN and Fox) and the decision to put expansion at least on hold, the Big 12 seems to have settled itself among the nation’s top conferences with the finances to back that statement. Money talks, and often causes universities not to walk. With a current deal locked in over eight more years, and a cooling on adding any members – very few of whom would have added proper value – the league has fortified its footing, and its idea and ideals of itself, into the mid 2020s.
That’s a key for West Virginia. It gives the university and athletic department added time to play catch-up, and improve academics, facilities, coaching salaries and on-field performance to better situate itself for the next round of league shuffling. That figures to heat up in 2023, when all five of the power conferences major broadcast rights contracts expire within a five-year time frame. The Big Ten (2023), Pac-12 (2024) SEC (CBS contract through 2024), Big 12 (2025), ACC (2027) and College Football Playoff (2025) will all be amidst negotations within the next six to 10 years, which gives WVU a window of opportunity heading into what figures to be at least another round of heavy consideration to realignment, perhaps for the final time.
That’s why these numbers, this financial share, is so imperative. It allows West Virginia to again begin to rival its peers, and position itself for its future in 2025 and beyond.