Keeping Score

College Sports Spending: The Real March Madness?

Rising bills to fund sports are catching students off guard.

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D.J. Stephens #30 of the Memphis Tigers dunks on Matthew Dellavedova #4 of the St. Mary's Gaels in the second half during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at at The Palace of Auburn Hills on March 21, 2013 in Auburn Hills, Michigan.

Who pays the bills for college sports? At most public institutions, it’s students and taxpayers. And in an era of rising tuition costs, and economic uncertainty, it’s starting to tick them off.

In the March 25 issue of TIME magazine, we explore rising spending levels in college sports. For most schools, the revenues don’t keep pace with the expenses for coaching and administrative salaries, facilities, scholarships, and other sports costs. According to USA Today, of 227 public institutions playing Division 1 sports, just 22 have self-sufficient athletic departments.

So schools are subsidizing athletic departments, at ever-increasing levels. According to a January report from the American Institutes for Research, athletic subsidies per athlete at public schools with Football Bowl Subdivision (the former Division 1A) teams spiked 61% from 2005 to 2010. Meanwhile, per-student academic spending rose just 23%.

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B. David Ridpath, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University and former president of the Drake Group — a college-sports watchdog organization — just finished polling 4,000 students from schools in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), a group of a dozen public institutions mostly in Ohio and Michigan (Ridpath also polled students from UMass, which plays football in the MAC). He asked them if they knew that a significant chunk of their annual student fees — payments on top of tuition that fund various student services — helped fund their school’s intercollegiate athletic departments. For example, at Miami of Ohio, $950 of a student’s annual $1,796 annual fee goes towards sports. (Sports budgets in the MAC average $23.2 million and rose 29% from 2006 to 2011, according to USA Today; they are 75% funded through subsidies).

Ridpath invited students to make comments in the survey, and shared the responses with TIME. They’re striking. Many students did not know their fees paid for sports. When they found out, most weren’t pleased.

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See the sampling below. Most respondents don’t support student fees for sports, others do. This mix is fairly consistent with the overall results. (Responses are reprinted verbatim, grammatical warts and all, except for expletives). This research goes inside the mind of today’s cost-conscious college student. Ridpath’s survey gives a rare voice to the students who actually bear the cost of college sports. Not everyone cheers for March Madness.

Well now I’m sad I’ve been wasting my money on events I haven’t gone to.

Let’s put this money towards buying the books I can barely afford for engineering instead of towards sports that not even half of this campus cares enough to watch..

Athletics are disruptive to education and creates a conflict of interest (or the perception of a COA) because non-athletes feel that they are held to a higher academic standard than student athletes.


I totally support the fact that all students have to do their part by paying their fees to support their sports teams. We’re all in it together:)

The devotion my school and others have towards athletics over research or improving campus/student life is infuriating. I protested last year when my school moved to increase budget allocations to sports while decreasing student jobs and funding for other parts of the school.

This is an idiotic way to spend MY money. I did not come to college for sports. I came to further my education. ACADEMICS>athletics

I am ok with the use of my university’s general fee.

I’m shocked at this! I can’t believe it. I didn’t know that there was a general fee that great or what it went to. This is upsetting to say the least.

Athletics are extremely unimportant to me as I am here for academics. It is very disappointing to learn that I am paying so much money each year to support athletics when I have to work so hard just to pay my rent.

My feelings with this news stretch no shorter than outrage

I think it is completely blind siding students by having us pay a fee for the athletes.

I’m an engineering student and half the lab equipment in the labs don’t work nor maintained. If college sports teams can not be self maintained they should be eliminated. College should be about education not who gets to go to the NFL.

I do not feel that I should have to pay for athletics and a lot of that is going towards the coach who is making a lot of money which is unfair because teachers are getting cut and I would rather my general fee go towards paying more teachers to work here than the coach of the football team.

I would like to see my general fees go to academics. No one cares how well you can throw a ball.

The fact that Ohio University is a division I athletic institution is very important to me. I would not have attended if it were not.

College is becoming a luxury when we are told it’s a necessity. Something must be done to help the college graduate not have years and years worth of debt for wanting to pursue a better life for themselves and future family. College has become more of a burden than a help in this regard. Jobs are no longer available that support the fast payment of debts for the mass amount of graduates pouring out from colleges and universities every year. I know a large portion of funding is determined by National and State governments but something needs to change drastically and fast or colleges will collapse because only few will be able to afford it and those few will be charged much more to sustain the collapsing system.

If a student cares about having a “good” sports team they will go to schools that have large programs such as OSU [Eds note: Ohio State University]. OU [Ohio University] athletics will never be what OSU is. OSU makes money from their D1 sports. We pour money into ours just to insure they stay D1 and our buildings are falling apart so much that my department was forced to move into a space that is not sufficient for us (School of Film). I love sports but i do not think that I should be required to fund OU sports. If they cannot stand as D1 on their own without outside student funding then they should be cut or demoted.

I think it should be known that my father is a Division I College football coach and has coached for my entire life (though many years at the Division III level). I strongly support funding for varsity athletics and understand that they bring in money for the university and build its reputation. I also know this can be difficult to prove with data.

Our university is currently too dependent on student fees in order to support the athletic program. We do a poor job in marketing our sports and promoting athletic events as a way to build school spirit. The crowds at are games given the student fees and “free admission” are very disappointing.

I work extremely hard to maintain my GPA and my extracurricular activities and am not rewarded for my academic achievements. Athletes are not pushed to perform academically as well and receive more funding than the rest of the student body.

I do not care about the sport people at NIU. [Eds. note: Northern Illinois University] I do not want to support them on my dollar. I do not play sports or attend any events. I SHOULD NOT GET CHARGED FOR THAT S—

Students come to OU [Ohio University] to learn and not to be entertained and/or distracted. The $200 I spend to support student athletes should be supporting my research. OU needs to sort out its priorities.

I received a degree in Civil Engineering from Ohio University. I’m now a grad student. I can’t say enough good about the place. That being said I would have never even applied to Ohio University if they didn’t have a football team competing at the highest level (FBS). Some of my fondest college memories involve me and my friends travelling to the away football games and men’s basketball NCAA tournament games.

We get charged a ridiculous amount to go to college and the fees go up with out warning some times. AND if there is something wrong the university’s face refuses to help resolve your problem. College isn’t about playing games it is about gaining the skills to be a productive member of society! no reason to make it unaffordable for people just for the sake of sports and fun.

If universities are to invest such gross amounts of money into athletics which have little to do with the purpose of a university they should do so on donated money not state or student money. That should be the law.

I know I’m being ripped off!

I should not be forced to pay a “general fee” just to support groups that I am in no way interested in participating. We pay more than enough in tuition. Unless my “general fee” is completely spent on financial aid.. I don’t feel I should be paying it. It’s not even my choice either. I’m forced to pay for things I don’t care about. Frankly it’s bulls—t. Yet another reason I can’t wait to leave.

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