Annual spending on sports by public universities in six big-time conferences has passed $100,000 per athlete — about six to 12 times the amount those schools spend per student on academics, according to a report that greeted college presidents Wednesday at the NCAA's annual meeting in Texas.
The study found the largest sports-academics gap by far in the Southeastern Conference, which combines relatively low academic spending and large coaching salaries.
Median athletic spending in the SEC was nearly $164,000 per athlete in 2010. That's more than 12 times the $13,390 per student the schools spent on academics, including instructional costs and student services.
The schools of the Pac-10, Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten and Big East also averaged six-figure spending per student athlete, the study found.
Across Division I, athletic spending rose twice as fast as academic spending between 2005 and 2010, though athletic spending still was smaller in absolute terms. During that period, the schools competing in the top-level Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA upped their athletic expenditures an average of $6,200 per athlete each year.
The figures were compiled by the Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research as part of a project with the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which favors reform of the financing.
The report did not provide information about ratios at individual institutions.
Overall, FBS schools spent an average of $92,000 per athlete in 2010, about seven times what they spent per student on academics. That took place at a time when state funding for higher education was falling in much of the country and when most tuition increases were outpacing inflation, the report said.
The figures weren't likely to shock the college presidents arriving in Grapevine, Texas, for the NCAA convention. But they will highlight their rising concern over spending on intercollegiate athletics, which some say threatens to sink budgets and taint schools' academic missions. Some want the NCAA to do more to address the issue, even if it can't legally limit salaries.
“How many sport video analysts do you really need?” said John Dunn, president of Western Michigan University, who gave a talk Tuesday at a preliminary part of the convention. “How many assistants for a coach — not assistant coaches, assistant office personnel, to keep his life straight?”
NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said colleges make their own spending decisions and “are reluctant to cede authority over their budgets to the NCAA.”
The study came with some qualifications. Universities already spend widely varying amounts on different types of students, for instance. Those in majors requiring special equipment or small classes get more spending per student, for instance.
The Knight Commission realizes that spending per athlete at many schools inevitably will be higher than academic spending per student, said Executive Director Amy Perko.
Also, “academic spending” can be a confusing category. While athletic spending includes athletic scholarships, for example, institutional financial aid available to other students doesn't count as “academic spending.”
Still, the size of the ratios — and the fact that six conferences have broken six figures, up from four conferences a year before — are eye-catching figures, Perko said.
Especially alarming, she said, are the growing subsidies most universities kick in to cover athletic department budgets.
The Knight Commission has been urging the NCAA, without success, to get schools to stay within certain ratios of athletic-to-academic spending.
A big driver in athletic spending has been the growth in coaching salaries and staff. Compensation accounts for about one-third of athletic spending across the FBS. Nowhere is that more vivid than in the SEC. Every football coach in the conference now earns at least $2 million.
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