In a growing “arms race” in college athletics, where many athletic departments around the nation are in the red with continuous growing deficits, the University of Illinois barely managed to stay over the line during the 2015 fiscal year.

The University’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics earned $74,469,976 in revenue during the 2015 fiscal year, resulting for the second-straight year in a $0 net profit.fm

Illinois’ finish to the year broke a trend of the DIA’s ability to bring in a profit while other schools struggle with increasing deficits. Interim Athletic Director Paul Kowalczyk recognizes that rising costs may force Illinois to join other schools that battle deficits, but is still proud of the department’s achievements.

“I think we’re in a good spot,” Kowalczyk said. “There will be challenges … We’re not having success on the playing field that we would like, we’re not meeting all the revenue projections we’d like to meet, especially with ticket sales in football and basketball. We’re in a good spot right now, but there are always concerns around the corner.”

However, the athletic department has managed to remain profitable during at least the past five years. The department has stayed on budget while deficits grow in other schools’ departments.

The national trend

Illinois’ ability to wade the financial water is something that’s become a rarity in college sports, according to B. David Ridpath, an associate professor and Kahandas Nandola professor of sports administration at Ohio University. Ridpath has more than 20 years of experience in sports administration as a professor and former college athlete — he taught Illinois Senior Associate Director of Athletics for External Operations Mike Waddell at Ohio.

According to the Ridpath, universities become caught up in the competition against other schools to provide the best facilities and sometimes don’t know when to draw the line, ultimately resulting in great deficits.

“In general, most athletic departments do run a deficit,” Ridpath said. “In athletics, we do a great job of generating revenue, but we do an equally bad job in managing our spending because we’re trying to be better than the next guy. We’re seeing this continual arms race that makes it very difficult for a college athletic department to get ahead. We would still watch college athletics, and it would still be entertaining and competitive to all of us without the excess.”

A Washington Post article published in 2015 showed that at least 30 universities in the FBS had deficits in 2014. The report stated six teams in the Big Ten ended the fiscal year in the red.

A majority of departments have dealt with large deficits and the inability to stop spending. University presidents and board of trustee members become worried of losing to other schools because of “outdated” facilities when competing schools improve theirs. Leaders are also focused on success and have shorter leashes with athletic directors and head coaches — early firings lead schools to pay for two coaches of the same sport at the same time, according to Ridpath.