Penn State Athletics Donations Dropped After Sandusky, But Football Giving QuintupledS

It's hard to quantify the effect the Jerry Sandusky cover-up and resultant NCAA penalties had on Penn State. School pride bounced back from the body blow with a circle-the-wagons mentality. Recruiting took a hit, though far from the disaster some predicted. But with the release of an athletic department financial report that covers both before and after the scandal broke, we've finally got some numbers. Overall donations plummeted, while contributions specifically to football were way up.

The report, filed to the NCAA and obtained by USA Today, covers the time frame from July of 2011 through June of 2012. Sandusky was indicted in early November, while Joe Paterno died in late January, but the period does not include the Freeh Report, the NCAA sanctions, and Sandusky's trial. So the numbers represent a Penn State community shaken by the allegations but not yet clear on the specifics, and divided over the program's handling but not yet angry at the Board of Trustees for acquiescing to the NCAA's heavy-handed discipline.

Some highlights from the filing:

  • Overall contributions to the athletic department were down sharply. Donations dropped by more than 25 percent for 2011-12, from $34.3 million to $25.6 million. (Pledges, which are not the same as donations, dropped more than 20 percent, to $54.4 million.)
  • At the same time, giving specifically to the football program skyrocketed. In 2011-12 football received $9.7 million in donations, up from $2.1 million the year. This can presumably be attributed to donors angry at the railroading of the program, or at least those wanting to reemphasize their commitment to the Nittany Lions in the wake of Paterno's death. It's probably a safe bet that many of the donors who would normally make general contributions instead earmarked their checks specifically for football.
  • Football ticket sales were mostly unchanged, from $34.2 million in 2010-11 to $33.4 million in 2011-12. While attendance was down, the difference was nearly made up by higher prices related to a controversial season ticket program. The Sandusky scandal broke with just one home game remaining in 2011, so that had no time to swing the needle either way.

In all, the Penn State athletic department took in $108.3 million in revenue (down about seven percent from the year before), and laid out $107.4 million in expenses. This kept PSU as one of a handful of programs around the country that was financially self-sufficient, meaning it turned a profit without having to use university or state funds.

That has likely changed already. Penn State has set aside the first of five annual installments of $12 million each to pay its NCAA fine. The money will come in the form of loans from the university's and the athletic department's reserve funds, and will not be accompanied by cuts to the football budget.