Although the UNC men’s basketball team may be more popular and successful than the football squad, the latter still makes more money.
In fact, the athletic department can pay the University of Idaho $800,000 to play in Kenan Stadium on Saturday and still profit from the game.
The payout, which is the largest ever given to a Tar Heel opponent, and the story behind it provide a glimpse into the complex, big-money world of college football.
UNC plays 12 regular season football games each year. Since 2008, seven of those games have been at home each year, and senior associate director of athletics Larry Gallo said they net $1.5 million to $1.7 million each.
Per Atlantic Coast Conference rules, UNC and other members share media revenue and keep their respective game-day receipts.
To attract opponents who don’t eat from the ACC trough, the University pays non-conference visitors.
One way to do this is via alternating home-game series, like UNC frequently organizes with East Carolina University.
In these cases, both schools get compensated for losing home-game revenue in one year, but they don’t profit.
Then there are the “one-and-done” games. These are often against smaller teams who collect larger checks for games they will likely lose. Elon University and Idaho fall into this category.
UNC will pay Elon $350,000 for its 62-0 loss on Sept. 1. The University will pay Idaho $800,000 — double its normal high end of $400,000.
Profit aside, one-and-done games let UNC schedule an extra home game the next season without worrying about having to play a contractually obligated away game.
‘A domino effect’
The story behind the UNC-Idaho game began in 2005.
That year, the University of Tennessee and UNC agreed to play each other in 2011 and 2012. Before those games transpired, however, the Volunteers fired their head coach, hired a new one and cancelled the series in 2011.
The University got $750,000 per the contract’s buyout clause, and UNC’s schedules for both years were thrown in disarray.
“When somebody drops someone, they think it just involves one team,” Gallo said. “It can be a domino effect.”
UNC lucked out when the University of Georgia dropped a game with the University of Louisville. The Cardinals signed a home-and-home contract and replaced Tennessee.
But the last-minute uncertainty Tennessee unleashed meant UNC had less time to fill out its 2012 schedule. The contract with Idaho was drawn up in October.
*Banking on football *
Scheduling seven home games is important for the athletic department. Besides giving fans more opportunities to see the Heels at Kenan, it squeezes more money from the athletic department’s biggest money-maker.
Data provided to the Department of Education in 2010-11 show that the basketball program brought in $19.7 million. The football team brought in $26.4 million — more than one-third of the athletic department’s $71.4 million take that year.
“It’s big time revenue that we bank on,” Gallo said.
The football team could operate without the money, but other sports depend on it. The fewer home games the football team plays, the harder things become for others.
Cost of doing business
The importance of football revenue to bigger athletic departments like UNC’s is reflected in the difference between payments for football and basketball non-conference home games.
This year, the largest of the six basketball payouts are $100,000 each for ECU and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. By comparison, the smallest football payment is ECU’s $250,000.
Smaller schools also benefit from one-and-done games.
“They’re looking for an opportunity to showcase their program and to help their budget,” former UNC Athletic Director Dick Baddour said.
Kyle Wills, Elon’s athletic business director, said his school’s football players like the opportunity to play against teams with big names and bigger stadiums.
Wills said Elon calculates its athletic budget in part from money it receives from football games like the one it played against UNC, although he declined to say how much.
One-and-done games can be an important income stream for smaller sports programs. In 2010-11, Department of Education data show Elon’s football program brought in 22.7 percent of its $17.2 million in athletic revenue.
In the same year, Idaho’s football team was responsible for a whopping 45.7 percent of the $16.8 million its athletic department brought in.
“It’s just part of being a lower-level (NCAA) Division 1 school,” Wills said.
From the stands
Fans at the East Carolina game had mixed views of this year’s non-conference schedule.
Bill Browning, who’s been a Rams Club member for 25 years, enjoys the friendlier feel of games against smaller opponents. But he wasn’t sure if he’d make the trip from Charlotte for the Idaho game.
“That’s a waste of my time and money,” he said.
Paola Cardona, a freshman with a giant “L” painted on her torso, was less discerning.
“It’s just fun to be home, no matter who we play,” she said. “As long as we’re not losing, money doesn’t matter.”
Contact the desk editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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