Is Conference Revenue Keeping Pace With Commissioners’ Salaries

May 15th, 2017 | by Francis Giknis
Is Conference Revenue Keeping Pace With Commissioners’ Salaries


As the staff of an athletic department, members operate under the leadership not only of their school but also their conference. Except in the rare case of independents, nearly all DI programs fall within conference affiliations and both reap the benefits and endure the difficulties. While not the case for all conference-affiliated schools, for the most part, members of the Power 5 conferences enjoy a privileged stream of income and publicity and are generally viewed as being in an enviable position.

This relationship is beneficial in both directions, as the conferences themselves earn huge financial windfalls through their organizing efforts. Although technically non-profits that redistribute revenue to their member schools, conferences employ high-ranking officers that regularly earn well over six-figures as seen in the recent tax return of the Big Ten.

For example, the eye-popping amount of $20 million is how much Jim Delaney, commissioner of the Big Ten, stands to make in future bonuses, in addition to his standard annual base compensation of just over $2 million. However, as noted in the article, he is on the low-end of the compensation scale for Power 5 commissioners, as seen in the chart below (source):

Conference Commissioner 2014-Income
ACC John Swafford $2.7 million
Big 12 Bob Bowlsby $2.6 million
Big Ten Jim Delaney $2.6 million
Pac-12 Larry Scott $4 million
SEC Mike Slive (retired July 2015) $3.6 million

These are staggering figures that might surprise athletic department officials if not most casual college sports fans. However, before forming judgment regarding the above figures, also worth noting is the growth conferences have seen under their leadership’s care. In the 2014-2015, Power Five conferences increased their average revenue by 17% over the prior year, with the SEC seeing a shocking 61.8% growth. In fact, the ACC earned more in 2015 than any conference had in history…and was still fourth out of five conferences, beating only the Big 12.

As previously mentioned, athletic departments receive massive benefits from the successes of conferences. Below is the breakdown of how revenue was distributed in 2015 to member schools versus revenue generated by the conferences (source):

Conference Average Amount to Members in 2015 Percentage of Conf. Revenue Distributed to Members
ACC $373 million 92.5%
Big 12 $227.2 million 84.8%
Big Ten $411.3 million 91.6%
Pac-12 $301.4 million 68.7%
SEC $475.8 million 90.2%

As nearly any athletic department member knows, conference membership can be a double-edged sword, sometimes generating income, other times only headache. However, for the members of the Power Five, the income justifies both the difficulties as well as the strong compensation of conference leadership.

About Contributor Francis Giknis
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.

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