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Student Loan Debt? College Sports Share Much Of the Blame

In a report released this month, the American Institutes for Research Delta Cost Project has substantiated what many, including myself, have been saying for quite a while. The success of athletics and athletes are more important to a university than its general academic success. This report rebukes some commonly held assumptions about the financial viability of college sports programs, and should be an awakening to students who are struggling with higher tuition, insurmountable debt, and fewer required class offerings.

The report looks at all inter-collegiate sports. All expenses directly related to the programs including compensation, game costs, facilities, recruitment, and scholarships were reviewed. Offsetting revenues included ticket sales, advertising revenue, donations, conference distributions, and institution contributions from student tuition and fees, and government support. Data from 337 NCAA Division 1 schools (202 public/135 private), broken down by FBS (formally Division 1A), FCS (formally Div 1AA), and DI-NF (formally Division 1AAA) from 2005 – 2010 was evaluated. Multi-sport students were counted once.  Academic costs used were all costs, direct and indirect, associated with educating students.

Key findings:

The effect of a winning program only has minimal impact on new enrollment

Community economic benefits from tourists are offset by locals staying away from shops and restaurants

Per athlete spending in 2010 (% increase from 2005):

FBS schools - $91,936 (+51%)

FCS schools - $36,665 (+48%)

DI-NF schools - $39,201 (+39%)

Per academic student spending in 2010 (% increase from 2005):

FBS schools - $13,628 (+23%)

FCS schools - $11,769 (+22%)

DI-NF schools - $11,861 (+11%)

Institution subsidy in 2010 (% increase from 2005):

FBS schools - $19,318 (+61%)

FCS schools - $24,407 (+42%)

DI-NF schools $29,601 (+38%)

Percent funding from subsidies:

FBS schools – 17.7%

FCS schools – 70.5%

DI-NF schools – 77.6%

Also, athletic conference spending disparity ranges from a high ratio of 12:1 in the SEC ($163,931 per athlete, $13,390 per academic) down to 4:1 in the Mid-American ($52,537 per athlete, $13,669 per academic).

Athletic programs are not self-supporting. Only four of the 97 public institutions in the FBS generated more revenue than they spent.

Sports are ingrained in our children from an early age. However, less than 2% of college athletes make it to the professional level. So why do we allow this to continue? Why do we allow our children’s adult future to be discounted by the very institutions we look to prepare them for it? When we say the key to success is a college education, why do we tolerate the enormous subsidizing of activities that do not contribute that that education? In today’s environment of higher education, there is no excuse for this disparity.

Students and parents are loudly complaining about tuition costs and the amount of debt burden. It’s time to stop complaining and start acting. Students need to act with their feet. When applying for admission, one of the first questions needs to be how much of tuition and fees goes to subsidies for athletics? This needs to be followed up with how much of the money you receive from the state go to athletics? If the amounts given are too much, then the student should tell the school they will not apply because of that. As enrollment declines schools may get the message. Fans will have to step up if the programs are to continue. But tuition should come down, government expenditures will go down, and the quality of education will go up. 

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