By Mary Beth Marklein, @mbmarklein
Public universities competing in NCAA Division I sports spend as much as six times more per athlete than they spend to educate students, and likely for the first time per-athlete spending at schools in each of the six highest-profile football conferences topped $100,000 in 2010, an analysis of federal and school data finds.
Between 2005 and 2010, spending by athletic departments rose more than twice as fast as academic spending on a per-student basis.
Median per-athlete spending by 97 public institutions that compete in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision increased the most: 51%, to $92,000, between 2005 and 2010, while median spending on education increased 23%, to just under $14,000 per full-time student.
Meanwhile, tuition at four-year public universities increased an average of 38% and state and local funding rose just 2%, research shows.
At schools where athletic budgets top $70 million, ticket sales are the largest source of revenue, followed by contributions and payments for television agreements and participation in bowl games and tournaments, the report shows. But fewer than one in eight of the 202 Division I schools in the report generated more money than they spent in any given year between 2005 and 2010.
Most athletic departments are subsidized in part with student fees and state and institutional funds because they do not generate enough revenue to cover all of their costs. That subsidy is the largest and fastest-growing source of revenue for the lower-tier schools, the study shows.
"Participation in intercollegiate athletics in the United States comes with a hefty price tag, one that is usually paid in part by state and institutional funds," says Donna Desrochers, author of the report released Wednesday by the Delta Cost Project at the non-profit American Institutes for Research.
The group's analysis was based on data from the Education Department and data collected by USA TODAY Sports for its College Athletics Finances Database. A 2012 USA TODAY analysis of 227 Division I public schools found that athletics revenue had increased 54% between 2005 and 2011; the portion of revenue that comes from student fees and the university increased 57%.
Compensation and benefits represent the largest athletic expense across all subdivisions, with about half of budgets going toward coaching. Lower-tier schools spent more of their budget on student aid.
John Nichols, a retired journalism professor at Pennsylvania State University and co-founder of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, a faculty-led alliance that seeks changes, says the growing reliance by sports departments on university funds "can mean in many circumstances one more assistant coach and one less English professor teaching Shakespeare."