A new report from the Delta Cost Project, which tracks academic and athletic spending, has found that public universities from the six most powerful NCAA conferences spend between three and six times more on student athletes than traditional students. The SEC spent 12 times more or $164,000 per athlete in 2010.
Entitled “Academic Spending Versus Athletic Spending: Who Wins?,” the report examined median annual athletic spending among public Division 1 schools at a time when many struggled to contain costs.
The after effects of the recession ballooned enrollment, and many public colleges increased tuition to make up for shrinking support from state budgets. While strong athletics programs are thought to improve universities' standing through increased visibility (called the "Flutie Factor" after the famed Boston College quarterback) the report says the effects are exaggerated, short-lived and limited to football.
The report also deflated estimates concerning how much new revenue a winning program generates for a university. Little evidence supported a major effect in alumni giving. Since it's impossible for every program to achieve a winning record, traditional students often subsidize less successful programs.
Brad Wolverton from the Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
Over all, athletics costs increased the fastest at the high-spending Football Bowl Subdivision programs, the report says, rising by about 50 percent in a recent five-year stretch, to some $92,000 per player. In contrast, academic spending on those campuses grew less than half as fast.
“Reports like this show we need to do something different in regard to our financial framework in order to enhance the long-term prospects of college sports,” Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, said in an interview on Tuesday night.
Perko's remarks come after a year in which more than a dozen schools made the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision -- big bets in a now-crowded market. The jury is still out for University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which made the jump this season. The team won a single game in a season plagued by poor attendance.
UMass Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy likened the jump and its pricetag to building a multimillion dollar research center in an interview with The New York Times. A university breaks ground on the building, he said, with the intention of attracting more students, but it doesn't always work.
The report notes that only one quarter of FBS members generated more money than it spent in any given year between 2005 and 2010.