3 On Your Side Investigates: $EC Money - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

3 On Your Side Investigates: $EC Money

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

The Southeastern Conference makes more profit for its universities than any other conference in the U.S.

In 2014, that number was $219,801,840, according to a USA Today analysis.

Mississippi State and Ole Miss made over five million in profit apiece that year, which might make some wonder where that money comes from, and more importantly, where it goes.

Whether you watch the Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium or the Rebels on ESPN, you’re taking part in a billion-dollar industry that’s recently begun to pump even more money into these athletics programs.

This year, the SEC contributed more than $38 million each to Mississippi State and Ole Miss because of added revenue from the SEC Network.

“We believe that this incremental revenue through the SEC allows us to be on equal playing field, allows us to do everything that everyone else is doing, pay our coaches, build buildings, provide for our student athletes to give them the best chance to compete," Ole Miss Athletic Director Ross Bjork said.

That infusion of cash made Ole Miss’ athletics budget cross the hundred million dollar mark for the first time ever.

Bjork said the impact goes far beyond that.

“Sell more tickets. Raise more money. Ask more people to get involved. Sell more merchandise. Every metric in terms of revenue here at Ole Miss that we can control, has doubled, tripled, quadrupled."

It’s the same for the Rebs’ in-state rival, Mississippi State University.

“We’re the only athletic department in the state of Mississippi that receives no institutional dollars to fund our operations, so we generate all of our own revenue. So SEC Network and all these other sources is really critical to what we’re doing," MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said.

So where does that money go? In MSU’s case, more than $10 million goes toward scholarships for student athletes.

For Ole Miss, that number’s $11.5 million.

Some of that goes to pay them for anything outside tuition as well, something the NCAA allowed universities to do in 2014.

That means student athletes get what's called the cost of attendance, with each school paying athletes around five thousand dollars annually.

Once you pair that with tuition, student athletes at MSU can get anywhere from $23,184 to $36,304 in all, depending on if they’re in-state or not. Ole Miss student athletes get a little more.

Still, students who don’t suit up inevitably end up helping to fund those who do, through ticket sales, concessions and even student fees. Students at Ole Miss and MSU contributed more than $4 million in fees combined, fees that help keep those athletic budgets from going into the red.

But at the end of the day, what’s in it for the vast majority who don’t play for their school? And does that investment pay off?

Ole Miss Athletics Operating Budget for 2016/2017:

Mississippi State Athletics Statement Budget for 2016/2017:

“I think the average student can capitalize on our success because it perhaps makes their degree have more power in the marketplace," Bjork said.

Stricklin agrees, adding that athletics can truly engage people.

“We’ve had back-to-back years of record enrollment. I don’t think there’s any surprise that the number one ranking in football two years ago had an impact on that and brought awareness to the university."

That impact can also be felt in the places these universities call home.

After all, for a few months out of the year, cities like Oxford and Starkville swell to four, even five times their normal size.

“This is the smallest Division I host community in the United States, and when you bring 65, 75 thousand people to town, it makes a whale of an impact," Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson said.

And when the last tailgate comes down, those cities are millions of dollars richer.

“Approximately $13 million is spent in the community that wouldn’t be spent if there wasn’t a ball game," Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said.

Wiseman said that money allows them to complete things they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, like a new city hall, better roads, and a newly renovated police department.

In Oxford’s case, Patterson said the city’s increased in value by a hundred million dollars in just five years, and the added publicity from the SEC Network and the university’s recent football triumphs only helps.

“You can’t buy it. We couldn’t afford to buy it. It’s just fantastic. We very much coattail their success," Patterson said.

That advertising that comes with being a part of the SEC Network is hardly free, though.

Getting that $38 million means more video coverage of more sports on campus.

“It's an investment that obviously is required to run the network on your campus, so we’ve spent 3 million dollars on equipment and cameras, production room upgrades,” Bjork said.

For Ole Miss, the number of games they televise either on television or on mobile platforms has doubled to around 110 a year.

“That’s something that across the league we have all done because we’re all benefiting substantially from the SEC Network. And our fans are getting unbelievable access to sports they may not have in the past," Stricklin said.

All that money also makes the arms race of facilities and bragging rights between universities much more competitive.

Mississippi State recently completed a new complex connecting its softball, track and tennis programs. They’re also renovating the university’s baseball stadium, building the largest baseball video board in college baseball.

Just last year, Rebels rejoiced when The Pavilion opened as the new home for Ole Miss basketball, the most expensive arena constructed in the SEC, with a price tag of more than $96 million.

“I think it’s nice to get caught up in some of the numbers, say if you have the biggest this or the biggest that, but the bottom line is, are you successful in that? If you have the biggest video board but you’re not winning any games or you’re not graduating your student athletes, then it’s meaningless," Bjork said.

Some SEC schools like LSU have taken profits from their athletics program and put them back into academics.

Mississippi State and Ole Miss say their profits are put back into reserves and the athletics experience.

2015 NCAA Membership Financial Report - Mississippi State Athletics:

2015 NCAA Membership Financial Report - Ole Miss Athletics:

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