Greg Byrne begins his employment as Alabama’s athletic director this week, and the first time he cracks the books he will discover that the biggest difference between Tucson and Tuscaloosa is money.
The Crimson Tide has 327 employees, according to its staff directory. Arizona’s staff directory lists 211.
But the Crimson Tide won’t be counting pennies the way Arizona must. Alabama newspapers last week reported that the Crimson Tide had a profit of $18.7 million in 2016.
The U.S. Department of Education reported Arizona’s 2016 athletic profit at $4.1 million.
Last year, according to UA senior associate AD for finance, Ross Cobb, Arizona paid $7.6 million in debt service. The school owes about half of the $72 million spent for the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and $30 million for phase one of a McKale Center facelift.
Deficit spending is not unusual in the Pac-12; Cal, Oregon State, UCLA, Colorado, Utah and ASU all fight similar budget battles.
The league’s middle class buys on credit more than ever.
Growing debt service hovers over college athletics more than at any time in history. That’s the cost of staying current in the facilities arms race, paying coaches seven-figure salaries and spending close to $8 million a year on travel expenses, as Arizona does.
The Crimson Tide won’t have difficulty paying for a super-sized athletic department staff that includes seven full-time photographers, four full-time flight operations people, including two pilots, and even two full-timers for the Crimson Cabaret Dance Team.
The key to paying bills in Power 5 college sports is media rights (Alabama was paid $42 million last year) and income from donors.
Arizona earns about $25 million a year in media rights, and its donor income is probably a fourth of that at Alabama.
In 2016, the “Tide Pride” program alone raised about $25 million just for priority seating at football games.
Two years ago, Arizona earned a combined $9.6 million in priority seating for football and basketball.
Tucson to Tuscaloosa? Follow the money.
One prediction: When Dave Heeke begins his duty as Arizona’s athletic director, when he studies the books, one of the first urges will be to implement staff layoffs or eliminate a sport or two.