In 1990, I attended my first SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla. The meetings mark the official end to the academic year for the conference, and when the meetings concluded there was a celebration as each of the 10 schools received a share of revenue generated from TV, bowl games, the NCAA basketball tournament and the like.
That June, the SEC schools shared $16.3 million – about $1.5 million per school.
“And our schools were thrilled to have it,” said Roy Kramer, who had taken over as commissioner the previous January. “Some of our schools were on very tight budgets.”
My, how things have changed.
Fast forward to last Friday. Just one week ago, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey announced that the league’s 14 member schools would share $584.2 million – which comes out to $40.4 million per school.
Thus, in that time frame, the revenue that the SEC schools have shared, mostly thanks to football, has increased 40-fold.
Here is a quick look at how the shared revenue has grown over the decades:
1980: $4.1 million
1990: $16.3 million
2000: $73.2 million
2010: $209.0 million
2016: $584.2 million
How did this happen? Here are five major events that led to the financial explosion the SEC has enjoyed over the past quarter-century.
1. Expansion, divisional play and the creation of the SEC championship game in 1992
Kramer had been on the job for less than a year when he found a little-known codicil in the NCAA by-laws that allowed conferences that were split into divisions to host a conference championship game.
The rule was created for the lower classifications, but Kramer saw divisional play doing two things: 1. Creating division championships, which means more games in November would be relevant; 2. The ability to create a winner-take-all championship game, which would have some value.
“We were pretty sure the championship game would work, but the ability to win a divisional championship caught people’s attention more than we thought,” Kramer said.
The first SEC championship game in Birmingham generated about $6 million in revenue, which was shared by the schools. That money has only grown.
2. The Bowl Coalition, the Bowl Alliance and the BCS
Before 1992, the bowls operated independently to put together the best matchup for each. As a result, several bowl games could impact who would win the national championship in the polls. In fact, No. 1 had met No. 2 in a bowl game only a handful of times before 1992.
In that year, five of the then-seven major conferences (the ACC, Big East, Big Eight, SEC and Southwest) banded together to form the Bowl Coalition. The agreement guaranteed that No. 1 and No. 2 would meet in a bowl game if those two teams were from the five conferences (and Notre Dame) that were part of the deal. The Big Ten and the Pac-10 did not participate, choosing to continue to send their champions to the Rose Bowl.
It worked in ’92 (No. 1 Miami vs. No. 2 Alabama, Sugar) and ’93 (No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Nebraska, Orange). It didn’t work in ’94, when No. 2 Penn State of the Big Ten played in the Rose Bowl. No. 1 Nebraska beat No. 3 Miami in the Orange Bowl and was declared national champions.
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