UConn athletic success is good for state, but I don't see it happening
There is a dirty little secret about the sports media that runs afoul of the "no rooting in the press box" thing. Of course we root. Mostly for ourselves. We root for the byline — what makes the best story that day — and also for our media outlet's bottom line: What's going to generate the most readers/clicks/attention?
It is for this reason that any media person in Connecticut who doesn't root in some form for UConn sports doesn't get it. It doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't be critical of State U if the situation arises. But the bigger picture suggests UConn's success is better for all of us.
Hence, I took no joy from recent published reports delineating the $40 million gap in the athletic department's revenues versus its expenditures for 2018. In an NCAA financial statement, UConn reported that total generated revenue from sports last year totaled $40.4 million, while expenses came in at $80.9 million.
It's just not sustainable.
And worse, I just don't see many realistic revenue sources remaining for UConn outside of you, me and our neighbors buying more tickets and going to more games. Conference media rights are expected to increase in the next contract, but why would we ever trust that the godforsaken American Athletic Conference will approach anything close to Power Five money? Residual revenues from the Big East are finished and the broadcast rights agreement with IMG will be reduced.
Think about what UConn faces because of its AAC affiliation: The school, per an Associated Press report, reported receiving $7.1 million in conference distribution funds last year and another $1 million in media rights, down from $7.3 million reported in 2017. By comparison, the average school distribution for the Southeastern Conference was reported to be about $41 million and Big Ten schools reportedly received an average of about $38.5 million.
How can UConn compete against Power Five schools when the score is $41 million to $7 million? AP reported that to close the gap, the athletic division received $30 million in institutional support and another $8.5 million from student fees last year. That was down from $34 million in institutional support in 2017.
Institutional support and student fees have a ceiling. Hence, revenue sources will be mostly dependent on better ticket sales. That's not comforting, given our state's tepid reaction to AAC opponents.
And so what option remains but to cut expenditures by eliminating some sports?
Start with football. Sorry, folks. I don't like the suggestion either. And I get this is going to come off as alarmist. But UConn's report showed the football program operated at an $8.7 million deficit. Men's basketball lost about $5 million and women's basketball lost about $3 million.
Per AP: "Football is the school's most expensive program, with operating expenses totaling just over $15.7 million. Ticket sales for the football program, which finished with a 1-11 record, totaled $2.4 million, compared with $3.3 million in 2017."
Do you see this getting any better? I don't. Not for a while, anyway. With no guarantees. The program draws fewer fans every year, lacks talent and plays in a league whose opponents just don't move the needle. The AAC does not have an efficacy problem as much as an image problem. There is no sex appeal in playing Tulsa and Tulane.
And even if football does improve and finishes, say, 8-4: How many more people will honestly care, given that the ceiling would be a league championship ensuring a trip to a bowl out of the real money?
I just don't see a day when 40,000 pack Rentschler Field anymore. Interest is down, talent is down and the schedule just isn't good enough. Some UConn loyalists didn't like the recent depiction of football as Dead Program Walking. But it is. Again: 40,000 at the Rent is good for business. I just don't see it ever happening.
UConn officials will be left with some difficult decisions in the coming months. I don't see a happy ending here. Hope I'm wrong. UConn's success is good for us all.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro