Inside Aggie Inc.

Why Texas A&M football tickets cost so much, and other secrets of the business of college sports.

When Wally Groff came to Texas A&M in 1966 to work as the business manager of the athletic department, the university’s entire sports budget was $863,000. Today that sum would not even cover the travel expenses of Aggie teams in an annual budget that has ballooned to $22 million and will soon increase by an additional $3 million. Following the course set by pro sports, intercollegiate athletics—at A&M and elsewhere—is big business. Its managers have to know more about profits and losses than they do about football and basketball. Today Groff’s official title at A&M is athletic director, but it would be more accurate to think of him as the CEO of Aggie Inc.

Once upon a time, athletic departments did little more than pay salaries, operate facilities, schedule games, and count gate receipts, but those days are long gone. Aggie Inc. has 177 full-time employees and about 500 part-time and student workers—not counting 500 or so student athletes. It retires the debt on bonds for stadium expansion. It has an entire division devoted solely to tutoring athletes and monitoring academic performance. As part of its never-ending search for more revenue, it licenses radio broadcast rights and hunts for businesses willing to sponsor special events, from the tu football game ($100,000 to call it the AT&T Lone Star Showdown) to a spring baseball tournament (forty plane tickets from Continental Airlines to help defray the travel expenses of nationally ranked teams).

As everyone in Texas knows, A&M is a unique institution. But in its pursuit of athletic success, Aggie Inc. faces the same economic problems as other schools do, and it tries to solve them in the same ways. In recent years A&M has joined a more prestigious conference, added luxury suites to its football stadium, scheduled big-name football opponents (Notre Dame in 2000 and 2001), and tried to upgrade its basketball program—all

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