Massive Spending Gap Between Athletes and Academics

This year’s national championship between Alabama and Georgia was a nail-biter of a game, with a deep pass to seal the win for the Crimson Tide. The competition on the turf seems to align off the field as well, as the average amount spent per year on a single player by both teams was between $300,000 and $350,000.

According to a recent study performed by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, annual spending on sports by public non-profit universities in the largest ‘big six’ conferences, has surpassed $100,000 per athlete—around 8 to 12 times the amount spent on academics per full time student. Twenty plus schools spend more than $200,000 per football player, including all of the ten top-ranked FCS programs.

The increased spending on student athletes comes at a time when many college and universities are struggling to fill the gap with funding needs. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, state spending on public higher education is now at lower levels than pre-recession rates. A recent study from the CBPP highlights that funds allocated to colleges and universities for the 2017 school year were almost $9 billion below the 2008 level.

Concurrently, spending on athletics has grown immensely since the recession. According to the Knight Commission data, major conferences (Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac12, Big12) have seen growth in player spending of around 30% and as high as 42%, since the recession. In a report by the American Association of University Professors, average pay of head basketball and football coaches almost doubled from 2006 to 2012. The average salaries for fulltime professors grew at a rate of 4 % at top doctoral level institutions.

University presidents face the reality of seeking new solutions to funding shortages, and athletics can be a tempting source for increased revenue. However, in doing so they must not lose overall sight of their purpose: educating their student body. According to an NCAA report, officials argue that only around two dozen of the 300 plus Division I athletic departments are truly self-sustaining—with revenues exceeding or breaking even with overall costs.  As state schools increase funding to their athletic departments to compete, many are having to balance their budgets by increasing student fees and tuition at alarming rates. As institutions spend more on athletes at vastly disproportionate amounts compared to their average students, they risk undermining themselves, and in turn perpetuating the public’s increased weariness of the higher education system itself.


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