College Sports Are Stealing Your Career Center’s Budget!

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Ok, maybe stealing is not the right word, but I had to catch your attention some way!

A study entitled, “Academic Spending Versus Athletic Spending: Who Wins?” by the Delta Cost Project (with data supplied by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics) determined that that athletic spending grew twice as fast as academic spending over a five-year period from 2006 to 2010.

You don’t need to read the report to see who wins!

How does it feel to take yearly budget freezes or cuts, only to find out that the athletic department’s budget has been rocketing up?

With a daughter at Ohio State, it’s hard not to get caught up in the fun and excitement that a winning football team creates.  Even my wife, who rarely watches sports caught the Buckeye fever last year and could be seen every Saturday with a half dozen Buckeye necklaces around her neck cheering the team as they successfully protected their undefeated winning streak.    (until the playoffs!)  College sports can be intoxicating, fun and entertaining.

However, after 6-7 home football games and 25 hours of entertainment, what does the time and investment do for the 50,000 undergraduate students?  What does this activity do to help the student advance their knowledge, skills and goal of getting a job when he or she graduates?

Entertainment at this level, comes at a price.

It’s beginning to become apparent that colleges and universities invest a disproportional share of their budgets in athletics and overspend on salary and expenses.  In 39 states the HIGHEST paid public official is either a football or basketball coach!  To many fans and administrators the high that comes with a winning team can be like a drug.  To keep the feeling all rational thinking stops as administrators make budget decisions to support a habit that becomes sacrosanct over time.

The Delta Cost Project’s research has shown that SEC schools spent an average of $163,931 per athlete in 2010 versus $13,390 per student on the academic side. The study shows that the SEC colleges are spending 12 times as much per athlete as they do on regular, non-revenue generating students.   They are even spending 40 percent more than Big Ten colleges and 60 percent more than PAC 12 colleges.

Business leaders are quite frequently heard to say, “You have to spend money”.  Its obvious SEC administrators are “drinking the same koolaid!”

How does this impact you?

  • Does having a winning football team help you do your job?
  • Does the athletic program encourage students to take ownership of their careers?

As we continue this discussion, keep in mind that this report is based on per athlete spending across all sports.  I doubt the wrestling, golf, or even swimming teams are investing the average amount in each athlete.  You might want to have a conversation with your athletic director to see just how much money is spent per athlete per sport.

Regardless, the point we are driving at is your budget whether you believe it or not is impacted by the giant sucking sound of campus sports.

Use the chart below to find your college!

NCAA spending study

If you are a Division 1 college, take a moment to see how much on average your college is spending per athlete in the following chart.  Even colleges that do not have a football program are spending more on athletes.  Colleges without a football program are spending triple per athlete the amount they spend on the academic student.

Taylor Branch, a Pulitzer Prize winning author who wrote an article, “The Shame of College Sport” has been quoted as saying,

“I’ve spoken to many college president who will admit to me “off the record” that the spending levels on salaries and expenses is not sustainable, but they just don’t know what to do to get hold of the insanity”. 

Your students are paying for your athletic program

As you fight for more budget by sharing these stats with your administrators you will undoubtedly be told that the college is willing to invest in a winning team because it attracts more students, contributions and endorsements and some of that is true.  Unfortunately, there are only a handful of colleges in the entire country that are winning from this formula.  Everyone else is chasing a fantasy and would potentially would have a better chance at winning the lottery.

Football program generate revenue from ticket sales, TV/bowl revenue and donations.  According to the research by the Delta Cost Project less than 25 percent of the FBS programs generated more money than they spent.   The study found that student fees and university subsidies make up the shortfall.  Even if they don’t care about the programs, or ever attend an event.

As a parent of a college student at a Big 10 college, I am painfully aware of the dozens of extra fees we pay, over and above tuition.    Some of the fees are baked into tuition.  According to an article in USA Today, the University of Cincinnati students pay $168.02 per semester of their student fees specifically to support the athletic program.  On top of that the university puts about $15 million more from the general fund into the athletic program.  Knowing that money has to come from somewhere, let’s assume the $15 million comes from a general pool created from tuition payments, and or housing and meal plans.

Now let’s look how all of this impacts your students.

Let’s assume that the University of Cincinnati has about 31,000 full time undergraduates.   Divide that number into the $15 million and you get $484 per student.   Now add in the $168.02 mentioned in the USA Today article and you end up with $652.02.  For better or worse that is how much money each student is investing in the athletic program do more to divert the students attention from the reason they went to college.  The Delta Cost Project research found that schools with the largest amount of per athlete subsides are those that have the lowest spending per student.  In other words, at Ohio State, the students are probably spending less per year subsidizing the athletic program then The University of Akron students.

So how does this compare to your budget?

I’m a bit too lazy on a Sunday afternoon to find the exact figure from NACE research, but lets assume you are a Division 1 college with 20,000 students.   You do the math and let me know what your department’s budget is per student.

While athletics are a very important part of the culture and student life, spending per athlete is significant.

So how does this make you feel?

Keep in mind that the data supplied by the Knight Commission that is the basis of this study does not include intramurals and clubs.  This is cost associated with “professional” amateur team sports that are led by well-paid coaches, staff and who are in an arms race with their peers to upgrade facilities and practice areas.

And this leads me back to you.

When the Higher Education Research Institute survey shows that over 88 percent of incoming freshman are going to college to improve their employability, just how does all the time, attention and lavish spending help them?  When your student walks across the stage on graduation day they are likely to join the ranks of the 53.6 percent of other graduates who are 25 that are unemployed or underemployed.

How did this focus and spending on the athletic program help them.

Perhaps it’s time to roll back the emphasis on college sports.

In my book, Change It! Create a College Career Centered College Culture, I argue that the focus on campus should be on careers, not athletics, climbing walls or teaching students to become better volunteers and community participants.

Let’s start a discussion to bring some sanity back to campus!

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Don Philabaum
Love to find ways to use technology help more grads and alumni develop successful career strategies.
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum

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