College athletics are very well funded. College education? Not so much.

by David Safier

At a time when public colleges and universities are cutting back, their athletic programs are growing, often courtesy of government funds and student fees. USA Today has been on the story with a string of stories, the lastest coming out last week.

Altogether in 2010, about $2 billion in subsidies went to athletics programs at the 218 public schools that have been in the NCAA's top-level Division I over the past five years. Those subsidies grew by an inflation-adjusted 3% in 2010. They have grown by 28% since 2006 and account for $1 of every $3 spent on athletics.

Even with 2010's more modest growth rate, these increases run counter to the national trend of declining state support for public colleges, many of which have imposed layoffs, salary freezes, cuts in course offerings and substantial tuition and fee hikes. While about a third of the 218 Division I schools trimmed athletics budgets last year, about a third either increased their spending faster than money came in, or spending cuts didn't keep up with losses.

A few public colleges make out like bandits because of their media contracts, ticket sales and donations. The top 5 in revenue-over-expenses colleges are U of Oregon at $41 million, followed by Alabama, Penn State, Michigan and Oklahoma State, the bottom of the top 5 at $17 million more in revenues than expenses.

With a few other exceptions, public colleges generally spend more on athletics than the programs bring in.

On USA Today's searchable database, UA athletics is listed as getting $5.7 million in "Direct institutional support" which, I believe, refers to student fees. Arizona State athletics gets $9 million. If I'm reading this correctly, while Arizona students are paying ever more for tuition, they're also saddled with supporting a Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized athletic program with multimillion dollar salaries and Rolls Royce facilities.

Nationwide, student contribution to athletics through fees is on the rise.

More than half of athletic departments at public schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision were subsidized by at least 26% last year, up from 20% in 2005. That's a jump of $198 million when adjusting for inflation and includes money from student fees, university support and state subsidies.

The top expense for Division 1 schools? Coaches' compensation, replacing scholarships, which used to soak up the most money. Coachs' compensation came to "more than $1 billion last year [2009], not counting severance payments."

Some faculty members are upset at coaches' salaries, like the uproar at Texas "protesting football coach Mack Brown's $2 million raise to more than $5 million a year." While Texas may be an outlier, it's part of a trend.

On average, major-college football head coaches received a 46% increase in pay between 2006 and 2009, making the average salary $1.36 million.

Enjoy your college sports all you want, folks. But you might consider that students are paying for your pleasure. While tuitions are rising and college education funding is decreasing, athletic programs are doing just fine. Better than "just fine," actually. They're rolling in dough.

One response to “College athletics are very well funded. College education? Not so much.

  1. Great job on this, Dave. Even though I’m a sports nut and tennis coach, I totally agree with you.
    I’m especially upset with all the foreign players that come to the US on athletic scholarships. More than half of U of A tennis teams are foreign players. The NCAA must clamp down on this.