Power Five conferences had over $2.9 billion in revenue in fiscal 2019, new tax records show

The Power Five college sports conferences had more than $2.9 billion in combined revenue for their 2019 fiscal years, the conferences’ new federal tax records show.

The Big Ten reported more than $780 million in revenue, the most of any conference, and its return credits recently retired commissioner Jim Delany with nearly $10.3 million in total compensation for the 2018 calendar year. 

The returns, four of which were provided this week in response to requests from USA TODAY Sports, serve as yet another reminder of the financial backdrop against which major-college sports’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fight over athletes’ name, image and likeness rights are playing out.

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According to the new documents, covering fiscal years ending June 30:

►The Big Ten brought in $781.5 million, which resulted in payouts of about $55.6 million to each of the 14-team conference’s 12 longest-standing members. Maryland and Rutgers received smaller revenue-share amounts, but both schools also received loans from the conference against future revenue shares.

►The 10-team Big 12 reported $439 million and payouts ranging from $38.2 million to $42 million.

►The Atlantic Coast reported $455.4 million (payouts from $27.6 million to $34 million across 14 schools, plus $6.8 million to Notre Dame).

►The Pac-12 reported $530.4 million (payouts of about $32.2 million per school). That figure that does not take into account the equity value of the Pac-12 Networks, the conference’s fully self-owned television and video content provider whose expenses help result in the conference passing less money to its member schools than the other conferences.

Former Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young (2) grabs onto the jersey of Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Jack Coan (17) during the 2019 Big Ten Championship.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott was credited with $5.4 million in total compensation for the 2018 calendar year, the Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby just over $4 million and the ACC’s John Swofford nearly $3.8 million. (Under IRS rules, a non-profit organization must report its revenue and expense data based on its fiscal year, but it must report compensation data based on the calendar year completed during the fiscal year.)

Bowlsby — whose base salary was $2.5 million in 2018 — is taking a 20% salary reduction "for the foreseeable future," according to an email from conference spokesman Bob Burda.

Scott, who had $2.95 million in base salary in 2018, is taking a 12% cut in base salary for the 2021 fiscal year, spokesman Andrew Walker said. The ACC declined to address Swofford's current compensation.

In January, the Southeastern Conference reported $720.6 million for fiscal 2019, with an average per-school distribution of nearly $45.3 million to the 13 schools that received full shares. Mississippi did not get a full share because its football team was banned from postseason play. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was credited with almost $2.6 million in total pay.

The aggregate revenue total for the five conferences represents an increase of just more than 6% compared to the total for fiscal 2018. Adjusting for inflation, the Power Five’s combined annual revenues have increased by more than $1.2 billion over the past five years.

The Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 usually have filed and released their tax records in May, but because of the pandemic, the IRS granted non-profit organizations additional time this year. Those four conferences just completed their 2020 fiscal years — the SEC’s closes Aug. 31 — and their spokespeople said they anticipate those revenues figures will be largely unaffected by the pandemic. The ACC has been expected to see a dramatic increase in 2020, which was the first year of revenue from the ACC Network.

The outlook for 2021 is uncertain and highly dependent on what happens with the football season. Television contracts provide the conferences with most of their revenue, and the Power Five’s TV deals get about 80% of their value from football, according to AJ Maestas, the CEO of Navigate, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in college and professional sports rights valuations.

Any games not played likely would result in lost revenue, Maestas said, with the per-game amount depending on which network has the rights to it. Any missed football game could cost a conference from $2 million to $5 million, Maestas said.

Delany stepped aside from the Big Ten on Jan. 1, after just over 30 years as commissioner. In July 2015, he became fully eligible for more than $20 million in future bonus payments, and he started receiving those amounts in 2017. The new documents, however, show that 2018 was the first time in which he received a full year’s worth of the payments, according to Big Ten chief financial officer Julie Suderman.

Delany’s base salary for the year was about $2.4 million. He also received nearly $3 million that was categorized on the return as bonus compensation and, according to Suderman, was connected to the future bonus payments. The return said Delany accrued, but had not yet been paid, another $2.8 million that was described on the return as deferred compensation but also is part of the future bonus payments.

On top of that, Delany’s total includes nearly $1.8 million that had been reported as deferred compensation on prior years’ returns but was not actually paid until 2018. This money, Suderman said, was connected to a contract-completion payment that started being reported for Delany in 2011. She declined to say how much had been reported for any given year.

Altogether, this means Delany’s unduplicated, net compensation for the year was about $8.5 million — well over the $5.5 million he received in 2017 that had been the most paid to a college conference commissioner in a year.