If money is power in college sports, then the Southeastern Conference was making its case for intercollegiate supremacy long before its recent poaching of Texas and Oklahoma.
The Birmingham, Ala.-based nonprofit has, over the last 15 years, steadily closed the annual revenue gap with the Indianapolis-headquartered NCAA. In the early 2000s, the SEC earned roughly a quarter of what the NCAA brought in, but in recent years the conference has pocketed almost two-thirds of NCAA revenue totals.
For the tax year between July 2018 and August 2019, the SEC generated $720 million, compared with the $1.12 billion in revenue claimed by the NCAA. The trend line has long suggested that the SEC would eventually overtake the NCAA (and the Big Ten) as the biggest-earning college sports organization in America.
Even before it gained its two Big 12 defectors, the SEC’s new TV deal with ESPN would alone have likely launched it into the NCAA’s 10-figure club by 2024. All this, despite the SEC having far less overhead and fewer liabilities. Last tax year, for example, the SEC employed a workforce less than 10% as large as the NCAA’s; the SEC has also avoided having to pay the mountainous legal and settlement fees that have eaten away at the association’s nest egg.
On the other side of the ledger, the SEC has found a far more diversified stream of revenue. Whereas the NCAA floats its enterprise on the broadcast rights to March Madness, the SEC has, in addition to its TV and radio deals, made steady gains in postseason event revenue and other opportunities. For the 2019 tax year, the SEC earned $210 million in postseason events, compared to just $89 million in 2010.
It’s perhaps no wonder why NCAA president Mark Emmert has recently endorsed the idea of college sports decentralizing and the association ceding much of its governing authority to conferences. He’s been earning about the same in annual compensation as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey—whose job creates far fewer headaches.