The Gamecocks, after all, made home playoff games in Division II a regular feature at what was then Paul Snow Stadium in decades past. The move to Division I after winning the 1992 D-II national championship changed things, and not for the better at first.
After an 18-year absence, post-season football is back in Jacksonville, but a lot has changed while it was gone. For instance, the name on the venue is now Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium. Nine thousand seats, new luxury boxes and media facilities have been added, and there are thousands more fans than ever before filling many of those new seats.
Also relatively new to Jacksonville is a multi-million-dollar price tag for the football program. JSU spent $2.77 million on football in the 2009 fiscal year, according to records submitted to the NCAA. The money paid for everything from uniforms to buses, coaches’ salaries to players’ scholarships.
Of that cost, $820,458, or about 30 percent, was covered by revenue generated through ticket sales, game guarantees and other sources outside the university. The remaining $1.95 million came from the university’s general fund, representing about 1.8 percent of all the money JSU spent that year, or about half what the school spent on research.
School officials say that expense is justified by the exposure the football program provides JSU, and for the activity and the people it brings to the campus. JSU without football wouldn’t be the same, they say.
“It’s a way that they can connect with the institution,” said JSU President Bill Meehan, calling the program “a drawing card” that brought more than 20,000 people to campus for the most recent home game.
University officials say they hope the changes fans have seen this season are just the beginning for a program with lofty goals. And the changes to come will come with costs as well, costs officials hope the Gamecocks’ fans will help meet.
Paying to play
Over the last four years, Jax State football has claimed 31 victories and suffered 13 defeats, the program’s most successful four-year run since becoming a full-fledged Division I member in 1995.
That kind of success doesn’t come cheap. JSU outspent nearly all its conference rivals on football in 2009.
The numbers come from annual financial statements the NCAA requires its members to submit each year. The Star requested copies of the statements for 2009 from the other football-playing institutions in JSU’s league, the Ohio Valley Conference, following the public records laws in each school’s home state. All the schools complied, except for Eastern Kentucky University and Austin Peay State University.
The Star also requested and obtained copies of the statements from the University of Montana and Appalachian State University, both successful FCS programs, and from the University of Alabama, Auburn University and Troy University. Those three schools play in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, where football expenses typically are much higher than in the FCS. The Star also requested and received statements from JSU dating back to the 2005 fiscal year.
Among the OVC schools who responded to The Star’s records request, the nearly $2.77 million the Gamecocks spent on football in fiscal 2009 was topped only by Tennessee State University, which spent $2.81 million that year. TSU, however, had just more than $2 million in revenue from sources other than the university itself, including more than $500,000 taken directly from its students in the form of an athletics fee.
Many schools charge such fees, but JSU does not. The university avoids the common practice of charging mandatory fees on top of tuition for things such as recreation facilities and computer technology.
“I don’t like them,” Meehan said. He said he led the university to eliminate the last such fee shortly after he became president in 1999.
While that practice avoids the earmarking of student money specifically for athletics, students still bear the cost through tuition, which in 2009 was the school’s second-largest source of revenue, bringing in $39.4 million. (The state government provided about $39.5 million in funding to JSU that year. In all, JSU spent $112.4 million.)
Sharing the $1.95 million in direct institutional support equally among the 9,351 students at JSU that fall, regardless of how many classes they took, would have each student paying $209 to support football in 2009, or 3.7 percent of the $5,700 a full-time student would have paid in tuition. (Supporting the entire athletic program’s $7.6 million in institutional support would equal about $817 per student, or 14.3 percent of full-time tuition.)
Bringing down the cost of the football program to the school while maintaining the same level of funding would mean finding other sources of revenue. At other schools, one of the biggest such sources of money is ticket sales. In 2009, JSU reported $105,362 in revenue from ticket sales, the fourth-highest amount among OVC schools who responded to The Star’s records request. Murray State University brought in more than twice as much, $226,689, despite attendance at games that normally falls below what Jax State enjoys at home.
Appalachian State is typically among the highest-drawing teams at the Division I FCS level each year. In 2009, ASU reported collecting $2.37 million at the gate. The North Carolina school’s football program has enjoyed success that the Gamecocks — and most other FCS programs — can only dream of. A string of three national championships between 2005 and 2007 also saw the Mountaineers grab national attention for knocking off the University of Michigan’s Wolverines, among big-time college football’s most storied and powerful programs.
ASU recently expanded its stadium to seat 21,650, but even that isn’t enough to meet the demand for tickets. The school averaged 29,449 fans at its six home games this season, packing the extras in along a grassy embankment overlooking one end zone.
It hasn’t always been that way. Charlie Cobb, ASU’s athletics director, says he recently found a photo from the 2004 season that showed a half-empty section of seats. Kidd-Brewer Stadium then seated 16,650.
“I think it’s safe to say there was always a lot of support for athletics,” Cobb said of ASU. But that support has risen to new levels since 2005, he said. “There’s a lot of passion about this place.”
The fans packing into the stadium pay no less than $25 per ticket, Cobb said. Students are admitted free, though full-time students pay a $569-per-year athletic fee.
The NCAA report for 2009 shows Appalachian spending $120,212 of its own money on the football program. Cobb says that’s just because of the arbitrary nature of the reporting date. In actuality, he said, the program turns a profit, a rarity for college football programs. The bulk of the revenue comes from ticket sales.
Oval Jaynes, JSU’s athletics director, knows all about Appalachian’s success. He’s been a season-ticket holder there since he graduated from the school in 1962.
Asked about his alma mater, he’s quick to offer praise. But he’s also quick to switch the topic back to his current employer.
“It’s exciting,” he said of the atmosphere at Jacksonville State this season. Most recently, that excitement came from a thrilling, last-minute victory over OVC foe Southeast Missouri State, then ranked No. 7 in the FCS. JSU was ranked sixth, and the win essentially earned JSU the spot it has in the playoffs this weekend.
“I can’t remember a game more exciting than that,” Jaynes said.
The 20,237 people in the stands were the second-largest crowd in school history. The record was set in September, when 22,186 came to see JSU beat Chattanooga in the brand-new stadium, just a week after opening the season with an upset win over the University of Mississippi, which plays in the Southeastern Conference with the likes of Alabama and Auburn. The season attendance average at JSU over five home games is 18,432, more than the previous record mark of 16,851, set in 2002.
JSU officials say the record crowds are helping to bring in more cash through ticket sales. JSU is now readying its NCAA financial report for the recently completed 2010 fiscal year. Because the fiscal cycle ends just after the first full month of the football season, it will reflect the last four home games of 2009, plus the Chattanooga game. Tony Bennett, acting director of JSU’s internal audit office, said the report will show $218,727 in ticket sales, more than double the number for the previous fiscal year. Expenses are rising, too. The 2010 report will show just more than $2 million in direct institutional support for football.
Jaynes says the revenue numbers should continue to climb as more fans begin paying for their tickets. JSU, he says, has for years handed out free tickets through promotional giveaways. That helped pump up the crowd size, he said, but it didn’t necessarily lead people to put as much value on being JSU fans as they might have otherwise.
“We’re trying to set a tone where we get people accustomed to buying tickets,” he said, later adding, “So many people here expect a free ticket. It’s a different mentality.”
JSU students are admitted free during regular season games. The least expensive single-game general admission tickets for other fans this season were $10.
JSU officials say they’re looking to emulate the kind of success Appalachian State has had on the field and at the ticket gate.
But in recent years they have discussed aiming even higher. In 2007, the school’s board of trustees commissioned a study on the feasibility of moving the football program to the FBS level, where Alabama and Auburn play, along with JSU’s erstwhile rival in Division II and FCS, Troy. The study found that programs in the Sun Belt Conference, where Troy plays, spent on average $13.6 million on their sports programs per year. JSU in 2009 spent $9.9 million.
On football alone, Troy spent $5.2 million in 2009, compared to JSU’s $2.7 million, though just $1.77 million came directly from the university. Another $738,110 in revenue came from ticket sales, and $603,019 came from donations to the program.
The cost to compete in the bigger leagues comes largely from more spent on scholarships for players — FCS programs can offer a maximum of 63 scholarships, while FBS programs offer 85 — coaches’ salaries and benefits, and travel for more distant road games.
The price tag appears to have sobered JSU officials, at least for now. The study trustees commissioned in 2007 recommended a five-year plan to improve the marketing and revenue for JSU’s sports programs.
“That’s an expensive move,” Jaynes, the JSU athletics director, said of a leap to FBS football. He and Meehan said that JSU for now needs to focus on improving its programs to compete consistently in the Ohio Valley Conference and the FCS.
“We want to be a dominant program where we are right now,” Jaynes said. The football program’s lofty top-10 ranking this season is a first since moving to the FCS level. He’d like to see that become a habit.
Jaynes said there is more work to do to raise the competitive level of the men’s and women’s basketball programs, and that facilities for those teams and for others need improvement, ticking off a list that included baseball, softball, tennis and soccer. That will cost money. Is it available?
“No, not right now,” Jaynes said. “We’ve got a certain list of needs, but you’ve got to match them with a list of resources to do them with.”
JSU has improvements to its Pete Mathews Coliseum on its long-range capital plan, but Meehan said there’s no source of funding identified to pay for the work.
JSU isn’t the only FCS school that has pondered a move to FBS football. With schools this summer and fall announcing moves among the various FBS conferences, some leagues sought new members among the FCS ranks. Montana reportedly was being courted by the Western Athletic Conference as a member. Despite being in perhaps better financial circumstances than any other school in the FCS — Montana spent just $114,388 of its own money on football in 2009, and claimed $4.3 million in ticket revenue — the university announced Nov. 11 that it would remain in the FCS Big Sky Conference.
Appalachian State announced Sept. 30 that it would study its options regarding conference and division alignment. Cobb, the athletic director there, said it’s not an easy decision to make.
“This has been talked about for 10 years, if not longer,” Cobb said. Many Appalachian fans, he said, have strong opinions about the matter. “It’s a very emotional conversation. We want to make it more data driven, put some facts next to it.”
While a move up may not be in the cards now, Jim Bennett, chairman of JSU’s board of trustees, says it’s not exactly off the table. He said if the right circumstances presented themselves, the board would have to consider its options.
“I don’t think we intend to stay at this level forever,” Bennett said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re moving tomorrow, either.”
He said the increase in attendance at football games is a signal of what JSU is trying to achieve. “When you have 20,000 screaming fans in the stadium, that’s a big push. It speaks to big-time. It’s just a totally different atmosphere than at any time in the past,” he said. “And I’ve been watching JSU football since 1957, and it has never been at this level.”
Metro Editor Ben Cunningham: 256-235-3542.
School EADA reportsAppalachian State
Eastern Illinois University
Jacksonville State University
Southeast Missouri State
University of Alabama