Athletics Spending Study Raises More Questions Than Answers

A new study on athletics spending vs. per-student academic spending at public universities has made the rounds, and drawn attention because of numbers like this:

According to the report, “Academic Spending Versus Athletic Spending: Who Wins?,” athletic departments in the Southeastern Conference—which have some of the swankest facilities and best-paid coaches—spent nearly $164,000 per athlete in 2010. That was 12 times as much as those institutions spent per student on academic expenses, and by far the largest gap among major conferences. Across Division I, athletic-department spending per athlete was typically three to six times what the institutions spent to educate the average student.

Like the NCPA study that found most room and board stipends are less than the amount of income that defines the poverty line, this is one number that begs further inspection. In addition to simply comparing athletic spending vs. academic spending, it would be interesting to see the following:

  • Total spending per athlete on academic and instruction services vs. total spending on regular students;
  • Percentage of the increase in institutional subsidies that were spent on something other than student-athlete services, like facilities or coaching salaries;
  • A net gain/loss to universities based on a standardized accounting scheme;
  • Some way to calculate return-on-investment of athletic subsidies.

Many of the inconsistencies with athletics financing comes from the different goals of reform-minded groups. Proponents of professional college athletics focus on the athletic department as an independent business, while advocates of a stronger academic focus look at the cost of athletics to the university. So where one group sees a profitable business, partly because of revenue from the university, another sees a drain on the ability of colleges to fulfill their academic mission.

Posted on by John Infante
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