University of Utah spent $95M to fund athletics in 2019-20 school year

Utah athletic department finished in the black for at least the seventh straight fiscal year, but budget covers only early months of the pandemic

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers with Layton Construction and Mountain Crane began dismantling the 2002 Winter Olympic Cauldron located on the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium complex, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. As part of the stadium's expansion project, the 19-year old cauldron will be restored to its former brilliance and re-installed on the grounds of Rice-Eccles Stadium, north of the ticket office, in 2021.

The University of Utah spent over $95 million to fund athletics during the 2019-20 academic year, according to the athletic department’s fiscal 2020 financial report, released last week.

The athletic department’s fiscal 2020 ran from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, a time which coincided with the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic and in turn, a suspension of all athletics-related activities.

The $95.185 million in expenses was reported against revenues of $97.217 million, meaning Utah’s athletic department finished the fiscal year in the black to the tune of $2.031 million. This marks at least the seventh consecutive fiscal year in which Utah’s athletic department reports a seven-figure profit. Utah’s publicly-available database of financial reports goes back to fiscal 2014.

Utah finishing fiscal 2020 in the black includes the fact the athletic department received $6,041,538 in student fees, and another $4,884,719 in direct institutional support, which includes “facilities, general and administrative, and Title IX support.” The department notes in its financial report that it receives state funds in the form of tuition waivers, Title 53, special, and continuing scholarships.

The revenue and expenses for fiscal 2020 are both down from record-highs in fiscal 2019 ($99.53 million in revenue vs. $96 million in expenses), both at least partially a result of the pandemic.

In the wake of the NCAA canceling its men’s basketball tournament, the college sports governing body announced it would distribute $225 million in June to Division I schools. The original distribution was budgeted at $600 million, with payments going to go out in April. That reduction represented a 67.5% decrease from what was expected.

That factor is evident in Utah’s revenue as it reported $2,577,277 under its “NCAA distribution” line, which the school defines says includes “NCAA sport sponsorships, NCAA grant-based aid, Student-Athlete Opportunity Fund subsidies, academic enhancements, NCAA reimbursements for postseason participation, and any NCAA distributions that pass through the Pac-12 Conference.”

By comparison, Utah reported $3,466,077 on the “NCAA distribution” line in fiscal 2019 and $3,244,473 in fiscal 2018.

Expenses were down in fiscal 2020, in part because the late-winter/spring sports Utah sponsors — baseball, softball, men’s lacrosse, golf, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s track and field — were all canceled because of the pandemic. That means no travel expenses usually associated with those sports.

Furthermore, in-person recruiting ground to a halt in all sports at the outset of the virus, which has saved the athletic department six-figures worth of travel in that area. Kyle Whittingham’s football program generally spends north of $1 million for recruiting, but spent just $738,446 for fiscal 2020.

As Power Five football continues to be a driving force in college athletics, so too is Utah football within its athletic department. Utes football raked in a profit of $32.28 million for fiscal 2020, which included $15.3 million in ticket sales across an unbeaten seven-game home schedule during the 2019 season.

Utah reported a net distribution from the Pac-12 of $32,309,663. Within that, the media rights distribution to the athletic department came out to $24,840,465, with 85% of that allocated to football and the other 15% to men’s basketball.

In a wide-ranging interview earlier this month with The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah athletic Mark Harlan estimated that the athletic department is going to finish fiscal 2021 with a $35 million budget deficit, but that is actually $15 million to $25 million less than he once feared if the 2020 football season wasn’t played.

In an effort to close that gap, the athletic department is expected to take a loan. On that front, there are two options, either acquire the loan from central campus, or acquire it from the Pac-12. Outgoing league commissioner Larry Scott said ahead of last month’s Pac-12 championship game that athletic departments will have the option to borrow against future earnings.