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Penn State Athletics: Salaries, Scholarships Grab Lion's Share of Budget Increases

by on March 11, 2018 9:30 PM

About two dozen major college athletic departments in the country were self-sustaining last year.

That is, they pay all their bills without any help from the overall university or from student fees that are funneled to the athletic department.

That number is according to USA Today, in a 2017 article on college athletics budgets. Read it here.

It's just about the same number that were self-sustaining in 2010-11.

Penn State was in that group back then. And, based on its 2016-17 report to the NCAA that the university recently released, is in that elite group again.

It's a big achievement.

Penn State has come out on the other end of the Sandusky scandal, in several ways. That the Penn State athletic department — which supports over 900 students and 31 varsity teams in one of the nation's most successful comprehensive sports programs — pays its own freight is a big deal.

At the end of the 2017 fall competition season, Penn State was ranked No. 2 behind Stanford in the Division standings for the Learfield Director's Cup, awarded to the winningest collegiate athletic program. The standings are here.

Success like that comes with a price. Penn State athletics generated $144 million in net revenues and had total expenses of $138.7 million to finish the July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017 fiscal year with a positive balance of more than $5 million. Expenses include debt service payments by athletics on its $30 million short-term loan from the overall university, in light of the scandal.

"Penn State athletics continues to be a strong, self-supporting unit, boosted by new and increasing revenue streams during fiscal 2017, while remaining attentive to rising expenses in many areas," Sandy Barbour, Penn State's director of athletics, said in a press release.

"During the past year, we've continued to see strong and encouraging indicators, including ticketing, sponsorships and licensing, and additional revenue in other areas, that have brought us closer to a sense of normalcy, in conjunction with our efforts to closely manage expenses.

"We remain vigilant in our expense management, while creating conditions for success for our students and achieving comprehensive excellence throughout ICA."

Barbour succeeded Dave Joyner as Penn State's athletic director on Aug. 14, 2014. Joyner was interim and then full-time AD from Nov. 16, 2011 to Aug. 13, 2014. Tim Curley was Penn State's athletic director from Dec. 30, 1993, until early November 2011.


Since the fiscal year 2010-11, the last full Penn State athletic season before the scandal hit, athletic department expenses have increased over $37 million, while revenues have jumped $28 million. Inflation in that time, according to the Consumer Price Index as reported by the U.S. Dept. of Labor & Statistics, was 12%. Click here for the CPI inflation calculator.

Penn State athletic department expenses have risen 37% in that time period, while revenues have increased 24%.

The biggest increase in expenses have been in salaries and compensation for administration and staff (up $13.7 million, 118%), coaches' compensation (up $14.4 million, 102%) and student aid (up $7.8 million, 63%).

The largest jump in revenues have been in monies from media rights, and payments from the Big Ten and the NCAA — going from a combined $23.75 million in 2010-11 to $37.5 million in 2016-17. Revenues from royalties, licensing, sponsorships and advertising have increased by over $8 million. Contributions — including donations and fees paid as football seat and suite licenses — were $34.2 million in 2011, then dipped to a low of $24.2 million in 2013-14, before vaulting to $30.8 million in the last fiscal year.

(Interesting, over the past seven years, Penn State football has paid $3.217 million in severance payments — although just $47,000 in 2016-17. Even though Penn State paid Vanderbilt $1.5 million in compensation when it hired James Franklin as head coach in 2014, the PSU athletic department is still nearly $1 million to the good when it comes to the comings and goings of its football coaching staff, according to its own reports to the NCAA. That's the because the Houston Texans paid $5.7 million to Penn State as compensation when it hired Bill O'Brien as its head coach in January 2014. Any financial resolution to Penn State's lawsuit against former assistant Bob Shoop would not appear until the 2017-18 report.)


A detailed look at the progression of revenues and expenses pre-scandal to the 2016-17 fiscal year is below; all numbers are from Penn State's annual reports to the NCAA.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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