Blue Raider women among nation’s leaders in revenue
The Middle Tennessee women’s athletics program found itself among the nation’s elite after being named one of the top 25 highest-grossing women’s programs in the nation in 2010, according to a report from the Department of Education earlier this month.
The rankings, which are traditionally dominated by large-conference programs, saw the Sun Belt’s Blue Raiders come in at No. 24 on the annual list with a total revenue of $5,421,128.
Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that MT was one of only 14 Division I women’s programs to report a profit, netting $447,019 in a season that was productive both on and off the court for Blue Raider teams.
The MT women’s basketball team created 36 percent of the total revenue after going undefeated in Sun Belt the regular season and making their sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament in seven years since Head Coach Rick Insell took over.
“I think it shows the work that Coach Insell and his staff have done in not only putting a great basketball program together in terms of students that can compete and win games, but also students who are doing well in the classroom and the fans have responded to,” said university President Sidney McPhee of the program’s success. “We’ve seen a tremendous growth in the attendance over the last six or seven years since he’s been with us, and the acceptance of the women’s program by a large number of fans who have come and seen the team play. It’s a good example of when you put a good product on the field or the basketball court, not only in terms of athletic skills, but also in terms of academic performance, people will come out.”
A large portion of that money came from a generous donation by a legendary alumnus and NFL coach.
Ken Shipp announced in February that he would be giving $1 million to the MT athletic program and more specifically to help renovate the women’s basketball coaches’ office space in the Murphy Center. Shipp passed away in early March, shortly after the donation, but his estate continues to give to MTSU scholarship funds and the athletic department, with a total over $4 million to date donated.
Basketball is the only Blue Raider women’s sport to charge for attendance. However, it is not the only sport that has experienced its share of success over the past few years and led to increased revenue opportunities from boosters, licensing rights and other sources.
Women’s volleyball has excelled under current Head Coach Matt Peck, winning six combined Sun Belt Championships and making six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
The soccer team has posted a record 130-72-20 since the hiring of Head Aston Rhoden who led the Blue Raiders to a Sun Belt Championship and NCAA Tournament bid in 2010.
Finally, the women’s golf and tennis teams have each finished in the top half of the Sun Belt the last two years, not to mention the impressive run that Blue Raider Hall of Fame Track Coach Dean Hayes has led his teams on while accumulating 46 conference championships along the way.
Despite the amount of success that these programs have had on the field, President McPhee touched on a perhaps more important quality of these athletes.
“We as a university are first and foremost an academic institution and attract that kind of students who will do academically well at our university, then, secondly, bringing in competitive athletes who not only do well academically, but also in their respective sports,” McPhee said. “We have shown over the years that our institution can prove a strong athletic program along with strong academics. You’ve seen and heard about some of the accomplishments on the field, but when you look at the academic performances released by the NCAA requirements, MTSU is a leader nationally in terms of academic performance.”
Associate Athletic Director Diane Turnham expanded on the role of the athletic program and how its success promotes the academic side of MTSU.
“We know we’re not the most important thing on campus; we completely understand that, but we do think of ourselves as the front door,” Turnham explained. “Hopefully, athletics allows the university to get into some homes that we might not normally get into…if they come and watch an athletic event or see us on TV, then they may want to know more about that school.”
In the 40th anniversary year of Title IX, Blue Raider women’s athletics’ success on the field and in the classroom continue to show what can be accomplished when equivalent opportunities are given to female athletes at the college level.