Keeping Score

College Sports Spending Is Insane

A new database from a college sports reform group shows the skewered priorities of American higher education

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A college sports reform group released a handy new database Wednesday that tracks per-year academic and athletic spending over a seven-year period (from 2005-2011), and lets you view the numbers by school, conference, NCAA subdivision, and more. The figures compiled by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics are a stark, if somewhat predictable, reminder of skewed higher education priorities. Here are a few quick takeaways.

1. For public schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the top tier of Division 1, median academic spending per full-time student rose 24% between 2005-2011. Meanwhile, athletic spending per athlete rose 58%, football spending per scholarship football player jumped 68%, and institutional funding for athletics per athlete — a subsidy allocated to athletics from a school’s general fund, government support, student fees, or other sources — spiked 73%.

2. The Southeastern Conference spends the most on athletics, and on football: $176,429 per athlete, $259,251 per scholarship football player, in 2011. The SEC also has the widest gap between academic and sports spending. Consider: for SEC schools, median academic spending grew 29% between 2005-2011. But the gap between academic and football spending grew 104%.

3. At the University of Cincinnati, academic spending per student fell 7% between 2005-2011 , the sharpest drop among the FBS public schools. Cincinnati’s  athletic spending grew 87%, and its athletic subsidy grew 181%.

4. The top football spending school is… Ohio State University. The Buckeyes, ranked second in the BCS standings going into this weekend, spent $380,757 per football player in 2011 (Ohio State spent $20,903 per student on academics). Auburn is ranked second in football spending — $325,581 — and third in the football standings (Auburn spends $13,979 on academics).

5. The University of Colorado had the fastest-growing sports subsidy — it went from $9,862 in institutional funding for athletics per athlete in 2005, to $46,741 in 2011, a 376% rise. No. 2, once again, is Auburn: a 349% jump, from a $2,205 subsidy per athlete in 2005, to $9,087.

The database is worth exploring. How much does America value college sports? It’s now easier than ever to follow the money.

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