No one has slipped out of town and is now living like a king in Patagonia.
No one accidentally misplaced $24.5 million of the revenue generated by University of Alabama athletics in the 2019 fiscal year. There was no angry boycott by donors disgruntled over the fact the Crimson Tide football team didn’t actually win the College Football Playoff in January 2018 but finished unacceptably as only the No. 2 team in the country.
Yes, the fact that Alabama, perennially one of the richest college athletic programs in the country, showed an operating deficit of some $21.2 million for fiscal 2019 (which ended on June 30, 2019 and thus reflects the 2018 football season) comes as a shock at first glance. But the answer isn’t malfeasance, or a fan base that is any less fanatically supportive than usual.
The answer is simpler: accounting.
Because of changes in the federal tax laws regarding charitable giving — a short version is that Tide Pride donations that are used to secure ticket priority used to be tax-deductible but aren’t any more — UA chose to take a one-year deferral of those revenues into fiscal 2020. In previous years, Alabama would record 80 percent of those revenues in the fiscal year in which they were received and defer 20 percent to the next fiscal. This year, because of the tax law change, 100 percent of the revenue was deferred.
When fiscal 2020 is completed, Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne said, the usual level of giving — $32.2 million in FY 2017, $29.3 million in FY 2018 — would be restored in the budget figures as the deferral continues.
“Our giving levels are very strong,” Alabama director of athletics Greg Byrne told The Tuscaloosa News on Wednesday. “Tide Pride is strong. This is not a change in cash flow, only in the way we account for those donations for the previous fiscal year.”
Alabama makes money, although Texas A&M currently generates the most revenue in the league. Alabama also spends money, lots of it. UA athletics spent more — $185.3 million — than any other SEC team in fiscal 2019, even more than Texas A&M. Without the accounting deferral, Alabama would have turned a head-above-water profit of about $3.3 million, better than red ink but not the kind of money that one would call a tidy nest-egg.
Some of Alabama’s FY 2019 expenses were one-time outlays, especially the buyout of former head basketball coach Avery Johnson and some members of his staff. Severance pay for all sports was listed as slightly more than $5.9 million, much of it for basketball, and an additional $750,000 — the buyout money paid to Buffalo when Nate Oats was hired — fell under “other operating expenses.” Bonuses to the football staff for winning the 2018 SEC title and advancing to the CFP Finals totaled $3.5 million, with staff and administration bonuses coming in at $2.5 million.
Of course, there is also an elephant in the room.
While the figures would look more normal in the upcoming year, all projections will be shattered if there is no football season. Virtually no projections that do not assume 100 percent attendance at home football games, or zero changes in television contracts, seem the least bit probable. The question is whether the losses will be partial or, aside from Tide Pride and other donations, a total collapse.
That’s why the Southeastern Conference and the other Power 5 conferences continue to hang on to every option for some sort of football. If there isn’t, no accounting wizardry in the world can prevent Fiscal 2021 from being very bad indeed.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org