clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Document diving: Northwestern's athletic finances

The numbers...what do they all mean?
The numbers...what do they all mean?

The discussion about Duke assistant coach Chris Collins and the coaching vs. resources debate inspired me to do a little digging for documents today. You know, just the kind of thing I enjoy doing on a fine Friday afternoon, when there's exciting basketball being played on TV.

For the most part, athletic department finances are not very transparent, and it's hard to find out how much a particular school is spending on its sports, paying its coaches, giving out in scholarships, etc. For private schools, like Northwestern, that don't have their annual budgets set by state legislatures and do not have to comply with public records requests, things can be even more murky.

Fortunately, if you're the type that gets excited about numbers, all universities are required to file some data with the government that sheds some -- but not a lot of -- light on their athletic departments. The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act of 1994 requires any university that participates in federal student aid programs and offers an intercollegiate athletics program to submit an annual report to the Department of Education on athletics participation, staffing, expenses and revenues.

Also, all universities that are non-profits (University of Phoenix, you're off the hook) have to file with the IRS a Form 990 that details their expenditures, revenues and other miscellaneous information, 99.9% of which isn't sports related. But one item in that form that is relevant, given the explosion in coaches' salaries, is the list of the institution's "highest compensated employees."

From this, we learn that Pat Fitzgerald in 2009 (the most recent year I could find Form 990s for) earned $1.2 million and was the fourth-highest paid employee at Northwestern, behind President Emeritus Henry Bienen (who made a cool $2.2 million), Chief Investment Officer William McLean ($1.6 million) and professor of cardiothoracic surgery Patrick McCarthy ($1.5 million).

Anyway, hit the jump to see some numbers that may or may not illuminate our situation. For comparison's sake, I also took a look at our "peer institutions" of Stanford, Duke and Vanderbilt.

The Form 990s are only somewhat helpful in our analysis here. Coach K was easy to find on Duke's Form 990, as he's the highest paid employee of the university by far, making $4.7 million. That figure includes base salary, bonuses and "other compensation," whatever that is. Not sure if that includes his American Express endorsement fees or salary for coaching the US Olympic team or what.

Vandy head coach Kevin Stallings is the second highest paid employee there, according to Vanderbilt's Form 990, at $1.8 million, about $36,000 less than then-football coach Bobby Johnson.

Stanford's Form 990 is very curious-- neither basketball coach Johnny Dawkins nor then-football coach Jim Harbaugh is listed among its highest paid employees. I'm dubious. The lowest paid of the five most highly compensated employees (besides administration and trustees) that are required to be listed is the chief of pediatric neuro surgery at Stanford's medical school, who makes $990,000. I find it hard to believe that Harbaugh didn't make at least double that amount. As for Dawkins, well, I guess it's plausible that he makes less than $990,000, since....

Northwestern's Form 990 also does not list Bill Carmody among its top-five paid employees. The lowest paid highly compensated employee listed is the chief of plastic surgery at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, who makes $1.1 million. So, we know what the ceiling on Carmody's salary is.

The Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act filings, which you can search and browse through here, break out each athletic department's operating (game-day) expenses, total expenses and total revenues for football, men's basketball and women's basketball.

Operating (game-day) expenses refers to all the expenses it takes to play home and away games, i.e. travel, lodging, meals, uniforms, equipment, team managers, trainers, etc. It does not include recruiting budgets, athletic scholarships, "guarantee" fees paid to other teams for home games, or coaches' salaries, which are included in the "total expenses" category.

By my powers of deduction, I would expect that when compared across our peer institutions, the variability in operating (game-day) expenses would be caused by how much travel you have to do and whether you're staying at the Motel 6 or the Ritz-Carlton. After all, stuff like team managers, trainers and equipment don't really vary that much between teams, right? So let's take a look for men's basketball--


Duke: $2.3 million

Stanford: $659,217

Vanderbilt: $1.1 million

Northwestern: $821,915

Hm, so Duke blows away the field, and Stanford is way lagging. The Duke part is probably not totally surprising, given their success, but what about the Stanford part? And what does it mean that NU spends $821,915 in operating expenses?

It's unclear to me how or whether the Department of Education verifies the data reported by each school. If NU were to build a new basketball arena from scratch and new locker rooms, would that go into the operating expenses category? Would it be amortized over several years? Or would we see like a $100 million spike in one year and then back down to somewhere around $821,915 the rest of the years? So many questions.

Let's look at total expenditures.


Duke: $13.8 million

Stanford: $4.2 million

Vanderbilt: $7.4 million

Northwestern: $4.6 million

Some this is probably explained by payroll. We know Coach K makes $4.7 million a year. Vandy also has a well-established head coach in Stallings. Stanford, meanwhile, is led by a relatively young coach, Dawkins, in his first head-coaching position and has yet to make the NCAA tournament, and then at Northwestern, Carmody you know about.

Another possible explanation is in those "guarantee" fees, which presumably Duke is in a much better position to pay than the other peer institutions. Duke sells out Cameron Indoor Stadium every game and can afford to dole out payola to the Gardner-Webbs of the world to be sacrificial lambs.

Also, Stanford's number may be low because the vast majority of its scholarships across all sports are covered by the school's athletic endowment. However, without knowing the situation at Duke, Vandy and NU, it's hard to make a definitive statement about that. I know NU officials have talked about how the expense of athletic scholarships really eats up a lot of NU's athletic revenue. [EDIT: A poster on Rivals notes that endowed scholarships are still technically expenses, even if they don't cost the school anything out of pocket, and are likely included in the total expenses. He's probably right.]

Let's look at revenues--


Duke: $28.9 million

Stanford: $5.4 million

Vanderbilt: $8.7 million

Northwestern: $11 million

Revenue is defined as "guarantee" fees collected, alumni donations, institutional royalties (jersey sales and stuff, I'm guessing), signage and sponsorships, sports camps, student activity fees, ticket sales and other revenues associated with that sport. It is unclear whether this also includes television rights fees.

So what can we learn from this information? Duke earns the most and spends the most. Northwestern, on the other hand, earns a respectable amount but spends proportionately less on men's basketball than Stanford and Vanderbilt. To me, this indicates that our athletic department could do a lot more to support our basketball program. But in what areas?

That can't be answered by this data. We don't know how the recruiting budgets compare. We don't know how facilities factor into the numbers. We also don't know how the assistant basketball coach salaries compare. There's no way for us to know from this data how much Chris Collins makes compared to Fred Hill, Tavares Hardy and Ivan Vujic. Is NU traveling by coach bus, while Duke flies charter?

Anyway, there aren't any sweeping statements we can make about NU's athletic resources based on this data, given all of the unknowns. NU appears to earn a lot of money from basketball, but it's unclear where it goes or how those decisions are made. But at least this might put things in context.

So where does that leave us? Chris Collins may or may not be interested in the Northwestern job, and Jim Phillips may or may not offer it to him. If, however, somehow this does all come to pass and Collins accepts a job offer to coach the Wildcats, he will quickly find out that the posh conditions he was used to at Duke are not available in Evanston. He will have less resources to work with, unless NU makes a ginormous commitment to basketball.

However, it appears he will be roughly on par with Stanford's expenditures, not that Stanford has had a stellar last few years in basketball. A modest uptick in spending on basketball could put NU on par with Vanderbilt, which has a real solid program that, while it isn't as elite as Duke, has achieved results on the court miles ahead of anything NU has accomplished.

As fans, that's probably the least we should demand -- a Vanderbilt level of spending -- no matter whether Carmody or somebody else is the coach. And if there are structural reasons why we can't get to that level, whether it's scholarship endowments or facility improvements, then let's take care of those, too.

We could do this exercise for the football program, too, but go watch basketball.