When the NCAA Committee on Infractions announced Missouri’s punishment for academic fraud Thursday morning, the most eye-opening sanction for the program was the one-year postseason ban levied against the football team.
After failing to make the postseason in both 2015 and 2016, Missouri has been to two straight bowls, and the 2019 team might be head coach Barry Odom’s most talented team yet. The Tigers added Clemson graduate transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant, who, according to a source close to him, will remain with the program in the wake of the sanctions, and most of the Tigers’ record-setting offense also returns. The idea of Bryant handing off to Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie, and throwing to Albert Okwuegbunam, had fans dreaming of competing for a Southeastern Conference East title and New Year’s Six bowl bid.
Those dreams will be on hold, at least for the foreseeable future as Missouri appeals the committee’s decision, which is expected to take at least three months.
But the loss of an opportunity for fans to enjoy another possible bowl appearance is hardly the only serious sanction. If the school’s appeal is denied, the financial ramifications for an athletic department already operating with a budget deficit could be grim. Although dropping ticket sales or an apathetic fan base might be a concern, the most painful hit for Missouri would be missing out on its share of the SEC’s bowl revenue.
Under SEC rules, any program barred from competing in postseason play for that year must also forfeit its share of revenue that the conference receives and then distributes to its 14 member schools. If Missouri’s appeal is denied, half of the revenue it receives from the conference’s bowl distribution would be given to the other league schools, and the other half would be put in an escrow account that can be accessed in five years if the program doesn’t have any major violations in that span.
In fiscal year 2018, which does not include the 2018 football season, Missouri reported $9.6 million in revenue from conference distributions, $7.03 million of which came from the football program. Ole Miss, which was banned from postseason play in both 2017 and 2018 after a five-year investigation into its football program, forfeited $7.1 million in 2017 and will forfeit more than $8 million for 2018, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Based on the SEC’s increasing revenues — it reported $659.9 million in total revenue for 2017-18 — Missouri’s expected loss would be over $8 million for the 2020 fiscal year.
“It’d be a fairly significant impact,” Missouri’s deputy athletics director and chief financial officer Tim Hickman said. “It would be about 7 or 8 percent of our budget. It’s not this coming fiscal year; it’d be that same 2019-20 year. But that’s definitely something we’ll have to plan ahead for.”
Missouri also earns revenue from its own individual bowl ticket sales and miscellaneous expenses reimbursed by the SEC, which totaled $1.3 million for the 2017 Texas Bowl. The school also has to pay for team travel, meals and lodging for the bowl game, as well as the travel of spirit squads, coaching bonuses and uniforms, an expense that added up to more than $1.4 million.
In the university’s most recent financial filings with the NCAA, the athletic department as a whole reported a net deficit of $1.8 million, down from $4.5 million the year before in large part due to a $2 million revenue bump from the men’s basketball program’s increased attendance after signing No. 1 overall recruit Michael Porter Jr.
But basketball attendance this year has plummeted with Porter Jr. gone and the team struggling to a 10-9 record, and the football program’s attendance declined slightly despite an 8-4 regular season record. Barring a dramatic rise in ticket revenue from both programs next season, the expected $8 million revenue loss from the postseason ban will be difficult to recoup for an athletic department that ranked second-to-last in the SEC in revenue in fiscal year 2017.
Tacked onto that, if the appeal isn’t successful, is a 1 percent deduction from the football, softball and baseball program’s budgets. The Committee on Infractions does not define what constitutes a program’s budget, and Hickman himself was waiting for that clarification. But based on Missouri’s most recent revenues and expenses, that fine could be anywhere from $230,000 to $360,000. The baseball and softball teams revenues are not specified in Missouri’s finance report.
Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.