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Who's Spending Big Dollars in the Sun Belt?

The USA TODAY staff tabulated their yearly NCAA Finances Report, revealing who among the Sun Belt is paying to play, and who's not.

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The Texas State Bobcats are the Sun Belt's big spenders.
The Texas State Bobcats are the Sun Belt's big spenders.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

New Flash: college sports programs are expensive. But if you want to throw your cowboy hat into the rodeo, you got to pony up. And if you haven't signed an enormous deal with ESPN, Nike, Under Armor or Adidas, you're likely ponying with somebody else's money.

Of the 231 athletic programs featured in the USA TODAY financial report, 220 required a subsidy to help pay the bills. What does that mean? Well, these programs simply didn't make enough box office jack to cover all their costs. So the athletic department had to cash in on student fees, institutional support, administration support and/or government aid to make ends meet.

Nice things cost money, kids.

In the Sun Belt, we're borrowing money from Peter to pay Paul all the time. A whopping 76.8% of Georgia State's athletic budget is subsidized. On the other side of the coin, both Louisiana schools (ULL and ULM) depend on a respectable less-than-36% in subsidies (state budget crises and all). Why is less-than 36% respectable? Of the 220 programs reliant on subsidies, only 68 programs fund less-than-50% of its budgets with non-revenue generated funds.

Sun Belt Program Expenses (2015) % Subsidy
UL-Monroe $12,801,041.00 33.15%
Georgia Southern $20,172,581.00 65.28%
Louisiana $23,034,683.00 35.24%
Troy $27,056,669.00 75.45%
South Alabama $25,123,468.00 70.73%
Georgia State $27,586,906.00 76.85%
Arkansas State $29,211,785.00 48.06%
Appalachian State $30,648,792.00 65.50%
Texas State $33,908,581.00 69.73%
Football Only
New Mexico State $26,874,116.00 68.59%
Idaho $19,248,132.00 53.05%
Little Rock $9,855,082.00 67.09%
UT-Arlington $11,748,874.00 77.89%

Only public schools are required to disclose financials.

Is the Sun Belt the only G5 conference receiving financial aid? (A: Nope)

We can't all be the SEC, who raked in $527M in gold coins from ESPN in 2015. Most of us are just working Joes trying to pay for some new turf and maybe an indoor practice facility. And yeah, all of us need a little help from our friends. When it comes to subsidizing sports programs, the Sun Belt is no better or much worse than anyone else in the Group of Five.

G5 Conference Avg Subsidy %
MAC 64.04%
Sun Belt 59.77%
CUSA 58.37%
MWC 46.27%
AAC 45.11%

The AAC is a little weird because only seven schools reported revenue, but the teams that reported pay most of their way. The Mountain West is fairly self sufficient, too. The neediest G5 is Florida International of Conference USA, which collects $23,620,086 in subsidies, or 82.55% of its budget. Boise State of the Mountain West weighs in with the G5's lowest subsidy percentage (28.34%). Second lowest? UL-Monroe of the Sun Belt (33.15%).

Does spending money in the Sun Belt show in the win column?

They say defense wins championships, and maybe they're right, because it's not straight cash, homie. The Texas Longhorns are spending the most loot than any college program ($173,248,133) and they don't have much bling to show for it in the Big Three sports.

In the Sun Belt, the top five spenders are South Alabama, Georgia State, Arkansas State, Appalachian State and Texas State. In the past three years, Arkansas State has two football titles. Georgia State has a pair of basketball championships. And South Alabama has a baseball trophy. The Bobcats, who spends the most, appear to be receiving the least bang for their buck. But overall, investing is winning.

Then again, Georgia Southern (Sun Belt football champion, 2014) and ULL (Sun Belt baseball champion 2014) are two of the conference's pinchiest of penny pinchers, and both have enjoyed measures of success.

Last Thought: Maybe the Sun Belt is missing an investment opportunity with New Mexico State.

Early this year, the Sun Belt shot-blocked Idaho and New Mexico State out of the conference (after 2017). But the Aggies are investing significant doubloons in sports, and would rank with the upper-spenders of the Sun Belt. Can the Sun Belt really afford to turn its back on New Mexico State?