Last week, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics released the results of an 18-month study into the finances behind college athletics (”Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports”).
Among other findings, it reported that “expenditures in big-time college sports grew 38 percent – nearly twice as much as spending on academics – from 2005 to 2008.” It also predicted that athletic budgets at each of the ten biggest-spending public institutions would exceed $250 million, on average, by 2020, up from $98 million in 2009.
With university and state budgets suffering due to the economy, the commission warns in its transmittal letter, “this financial arms race threatens the continued viability of athletics programs and the integrity of our universities. It cannot be maintained.” The report itself warns that educational activities are in danger of being compromised to sustain ever higher sports funding.
As the chart above demonstrates, the Southeastern Conference is by far the biggest-spending conference in the country, even though most of its member schools represent states with some of the nation’s lowest household incomes. As the commission also reports, “According to a USA Today analysis, just seven athletics programs generated enough revenue to finish in the black in each of the past five years.”
UPDATE: In the USA Today analysis cited in the report, the seven programs to make money in each of the last five years were Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana State, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. Last year, just 14 major-college programs made money for their schools; every other program in the country had to be subsidized by taxpayers, and the subsidies are rising as costs soar.
“The nation’s highest-profile college athletic programs drew a greater percentage of their revenue from student fees and their schools’ general funds in 2009 than they had in any of the previous four years, a USA TODAY analysis of new college sports finance data finds.
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.”
BTW, Michael Adams, president of the University of Georgia, was among those signing the commission report.