Money Bowl: Colleges spend 6 times more on athletes than students

By |
Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

The athletic departments of public National Collegiate Athletic Association Association Division I schools spend three to six times more on athletes than educating students, a difference as high as $78,000 at top colleges and universities, according to a shocking new study of provided to Secrets.

The report, produced by the Delta Cost Project at the American Institutes for Research, cements the reality that public schools in the top tier--the Football Bowl Subdivision that includes BCS champion Alabama--spend far more on athletic than academic programs.

Without naming individual school budgets, the report found that median athletic spending in the top tier, Football Bowl Subdivision, was $92,000 versus less than $14,000 for a full-time student. In Division I subdivisions, the median comparison was about $39,000 for athletes versus $11,800 for students.

But spending doesn't always translate into a profitable program. While college sports is a $6 billion business, three out of four athletic departments of the 97 public schools in the FBS generated less money than they spent between 2005 and 2010. A typical FBS school spends $45 million a year on their sports programs, said the report. Most funding pays for coaching staffs.

"Participation in intercollegiate athletics in the United States comes with a hefty price tag, one that is usually paid in part by students and institutions," said Donna Desrochers, author of the report. "Public institutions with Division I athletic programs continue to invest significant resources in athletics, even as academic budgets were under strain during the recession," she added.

Key points from the report:

-- In the so-called "power conferences" - Southeastern (SEC), Big 12, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast (ACC), Big Ten and Big East - the median athletic spending per athlete topped $100,000 in 2010, and each conference spent at least six times more on athletics than academics, on a per capita basis.

-- Most Division I athletic departments receive support from their institutions and students. In the Football Bowl Subdivision, student fees cover 7.6 percent of athletic budgets, while 10.1 percent comes from institution and state support. In the Football Championship Subdivision and the Division I, No Football subdivision, more than 70 percent of athletic budgets are supplied by student fees, and institution and state support.

-- Although academic resources were strained after the recent recession, only the affluent Football Bowl Subdivision reined in escalating athletic spending per athlete in 2010. Athletic subsidies per athlete continued to increase in all subdivisions despite financial constraints.

-- Salaries and compensation account for roughly one-third of athletic spending at all Division I institutions, while spending on facilities and equipment accounts for 20 percent.

-- Smaller institutions rely more heavily on student fees to cover athletic expenses than their larger counterparts. At public institutions that do not compete in football, for example, student fees account for 42.2 percent of athletic department revenue.