Among the 225 public universities and colleges whose athletic teams participate in Division I sports, from 2005 to 2011, athletic spending per athlete increased at a faster rate than academic spending per student, according to a new database launched last week by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics college sports reform organization.
Knight Commission officials say the finding and other data highlight evidence that many Division I institutions are supporting athletic programs that will not be sustainable over time. The data are part of the Knight Commission’s Athletic and Academic Spending Database for NCAA Division I, which now makes athletic and academic spending data web-accessible so comparisons can be made within individual and across multiple institutions.
“College athletics has the potential for so much good, but the current trajectory of spending is unsustainable,” said Dr. William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and co-chairman of the Commission, in a statement.
“We already see levels of spending at some universities that require them to divert substantial resources from their core academic responsibilities,” he continued. “We are hopeful this online database will help university leaders and policymakers develop practices and policies that bring better balance to athletic expenditures within the broader institutional missions.”
The online and interactive database is expected to “provide greater transparency for athletics finances and better measures to compare trends in academic and athletic spending,” according to the Commission. In 2010, the Commission released “Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports,” a report that recommended solutions for the growing financial challenges confronting college sports and new incentives that reward winning over fulfilling basic educational goals.
The goal of the new database is to allow administrators, policymakers, researchers, taxpayers and others to compare trends in spending on core academic activities with spending on athletics in public Division I institutions. With football playing a significant role in determining Division I spending patterns, football-only spending data are included in the database for analysis. The database, which includes data from several public sources such as NCAA reports, allows users to compare trends and search by institutions, conferences and subdivisions. Private universities are not included in the database.
“The database really is a follow-up to the Commission’s 2010 report ‘Restoring the Balance,’ which did call for greater transparency for athletic finances and incentives to encourage responsible spending in college sport,” said Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
“The report warned that spending trends were not sustainable for most Division I colleges and universities,” said Perko. “And it’s our hope that this database can help shape the debate moving forward and ignite a discussion about how to create incentives or different regulations, or even different competitive structures that encourage responsible spending.”
Among significant trends identified by the Commission is the growth in coaching salaries, which is said to be a major factor in athletic spending growth rates. At schools whose teams belong to the five conferences with the largest athletics budgets, median coaching salaries jumped as much as 54 percent in inflation-adjusted terms from 2005 to 2011, compared to 24 percent for all schools included in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) category.
Also during that period, academic spending per student at institutions in the FBS grew just 3 percent after adjusting for inflation, while athletic spending per athlete increased 31 percent and football spending per football player jumped 52 percent, not including spending on athletic scholarships.
Dr. Lee McElroy, director of intercollegiate athletics at the University of Albany, praised the Knight Commission for launching the database. “First of all,” he said, “it does what the Knight Commission does an excellent job of and that is getting people to discuss pertinent issues in higher education, particularly around the balance of academics and athletics.”
“I think [the database] has great value,” McElroy added.
McElroy cautioned that, with the data largely limited to spending per student and other forms of institutional spending, the database could be improved with information that provides additional descriptions about students and student-athletes, such as majors and graduation rates. He added that it would be helpful for database users to have access to information that describes important details about specific institutions.
“For example, [the University of Albany has] only been a Division I institution for 15 years. And so, we’ve made some investments,” which might be misinterpreted as excessive spending, McElroy explained. The University of Albany, a State University of New York school, has transitioned into Division I with a strategic and sustainable plan, he contends.
“From an institutional perspective it’s very critical that we stay in accord with our mission…,” said McElroy. “We’re not trying to be UCLA; we’re not trying to be the University of Texas; we’re not trying to be the University of Florida. Our mission is not mass national attention and affinity. It’s staying within the guidelines we set for ourselves.”
Dr. Earl Smith, a professor emeritus of sociology at Wake Forest University, characterized the Commission database as disappointing for putting out data that provide little new ground for helping researchers and administrators understand why athletic spending is growing rapidly. Smith, who also teaches at George Mason University, is the author of Race, Sport and the American Dream.
Smith said researchers such as himself have known for some time that the effort by regional and non-flagship state schools to compete as Division I schools has been a difficult struggle for many institutions. “All the intricacies of what this spending means is not in the database,” he said.
What would have helped is the inclusion of revenue and additional expenditure data of sports programs, Smith noted.
“For a state school, you should be able to see the state appropriation, the donations that come in, the broadcast revenue, and you should be able to see ticket sales,” he said.