Good news, Southeastern Conference schools: all 14 of you just got a $10 million raise.
Of the several stories to come out of the SEC meetings in Destin last week, the nearly 50 percent increase in conference payout was seemingly the biggest. Jumping from just over $20 million to $31.2 million, the per-school payout hit a record high thanks to the SEC Network, the new College Football Playoff, bowl money and other various sources of conference revenue.
Said recently-retired SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, “This increased revenue is important for our athletics programs to continue to fully support broad-based athletics programs for both male and female student-athletes and to give them the opportunity to compete at the highest level, both in the classroom and in competition.”
Over the past year, the question was how much the SEC would make. Now, with that answered, the question becomes, what do the schools do with all the extra money?
The most obvious answer is covering the cost of the investment each school made to be able to produce and broadcast SEC Network events, and that will certainly be a big part of it. The SEC Network has shown itself to be a worthwhile investment both financially and for the fans who were able to receive unprecedented coverage of their teams at home and on the road.
However, according to Mississippi State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, it seems the most significant chunk of the new money will go right back to the people at the center of the department’s mission: the student-athletes.
At MSU and all 13 other SEC schools, a new (and welcomed) expenditure popped up in the form of the NCAA allowing scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance. The numbers vary to a degree from school to school, but in Starkville, Stricklin and the athletic department have budgeted $1.4 million next year to cover the additional scholarship benefits.
“The timing is really fortuitous,” Stricklin said of the SEC revenue increase.
Combined with rest of the cost of scholarships for student-athletes, MSU’s athletic department will have a roughly $10 million bill to pay for tuitions, books and fees.
In addition to covering full cost of attendance, MSU – like many other SEC schools – has already added more full time staff throughout the department, most of them in areas working directly with students.
MSU hired a full-time nutritionist for the first time last year, is adding another full-time athletic trainer this year, and for the first time ever is creating a position dedicated entirely to life skills coordination for student-athletes. The job, as Stricklin explained it, is intended to help students manage their time in college and prepare them for life after school, everything from putting together résumés and job applications to saving money and using time wisely.
In fact, MSU actually has plans to work with Dave Ramsey’s organization to provide fiscal education to student-athletes.
“We want to make sure that they understand the basics of finance,” Stricklin said. “Not that we’re going to tell them what to do with their money, but to make sure they understand how to open a checking account, set a budget and things of that nature.”
Just this week, a full-time assistant marketing position was added, and there are plans to expand both the ticketing staff and the new video team, as well as hopes to hire a full-time photographer. Beyond those hires, MSU is adding several graduate assistant spots throughout the department, some administrative, one with nutrition and several with individual teams.
“Everything we do,” Stricklin said, “is about enhancing the experience for our students and making sure they have the best academic experience possible, the best athletic experience possible and then a healthy, well-rounded social life.”
Beyond the new costs and positions, MSU is actually doing something fairly unique in big-time athletics. For the first time ever in the 2015-16 fiscal year, MSU’s athletic department will not receive any money from the tuition and fees of the school’s students.
In the past, all MSU students had fees in their tuition going toward free and reduced price tickets for athletic events and the university would send that money to athletics to use as they saw fit. In recent years, that number was as high as $4 million annually, though it steadily dropped and hit a low of $2.5 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Starting this year, athletics will forgo receiving any institutional funds, allowing that money to go straight back to the academic side. Not taking any money from general student tuition is a rarity in college athletics.
Beyond that, the athletic department will invest another $1 million back into academics, sending $750,000 to the school’s State Pride Initiative for faculty and staff, as well as another few hundred thousand toward a university-wide marketing campaign.
“We’re fortunate to be an added benefit to the university without taking any resources away from the primary mission,” Stricklin said.
A portion of the increased SEC revenue will go toward other areas, to be sure. Facilities, salaries, food and beverage for student-athletes, equipment for various departments and programs, and a host of other expenses will take up much of the added income.
However, at least in MSU’s case, the greatest bit of it is going right back to the students.
“It’s not just about building buildings and paying coaches,” Stricklin said. “It’s about creating a great experience for our student-athletes and benefiting the entire university.”