A new study compares athletic spending on college campuses to academic spending and finds there is quite a disparity. The study, issued Wednesday by the Delta Cost Project, shows that in 2010 public universities in the six most powerful NCAA conferences spent six to 12 times as much per athlete as on other students.
Athletic boosters will say that’s a good thing. They provide much of the money creating the disparity.
Principal researcher Donna M. Desrochers headed the project for the organization, which measures educational costs and is an arm of the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Institutes for Research. The study can be found at deltacostproject.org.
Derochers noted that Division I athletic programs were a $6 billion enterprise in fiscal 2010 and that costs were spiraling upward at a time when most colleges and universities were struggling to meet other expenses because of declining state support.
The study says that at Football Bowl Subdivision public institutions the median athletic spending in 2010 was nearly $92,000 per athlete, while median academic spending was less than $14,000 per full-time equivalent student.
However, those numbers vary widely from conference to conference. In the Southeastern Conference, where the University of Arkansas competes, median athletic spending was $163,931, while median academic spending was $13,390 — a ratio of about 12-1.
In the Sun Belt Conference, where Arkansas State University competes, the numbers were $41,796 and $10,012, respectively — a ratio of about 4-1. UA-Little Rock also competes in the Sun Belt but was grouped separately with institutions that don’t have football teams. Their median spending figures were $39,201 and $11,861 — a ratio of 3.3-1.
Consider just the disparity between athletic spending for the SEC and SBC, which has the lowest median for athletic spending — a difference of almost 4-1.
The University of Central Arkansas competes in the Football Championship Subdivision but was not listed as participating in this study. UA-Pine Bluff, also an FCS school, was excluded because of "missing or erroneous athlete count data."
As to whether the heavy spending on athletics is worthwhile to the institutions, the study offered this conclusion:
"Participation — and particularly success — in Division I college athletics often results in priceless ‘advertising’ for colleges and universities, reaching potential students, donors and politicians. But evidence of the ancillary benefits of college sports is mixed. Successful athletic performance appears to boost applications at winning colleges and universities, but aside from a few isolated examples … the effects are typically quite modest. … and are typically confined to football success."
However, the study makes clear that a relatively small share of Division I schools’ athletic revenue comes from nonathletic subsidies. In 2010 the 97 schools surveyed got 10.1 percent of their revenue from institutional or governmental sources and 7.6 percent from student fees. The remainder came from ticket sales (24 percent), donor contributions (22), NCAA distributions and television agreements (19), corporate sponsors, advertising and licensing (7) and other sources (just under 8).
That, too, varies widely. Fewer than one in four FBS athletic departments generated more money than it spent in any year between 2005 and 2010, the study said. UA-Fayetteville is one that does.
What the schools spend their money on, though, is even more revealing. While the study is based on spending per student, the biggest share goes not to athletes but rather to their coaches.
Compensation accounted for 34.6 percent of athletic spending in 2010, by far the biggest expense. Facilities and equipment took 20 percent, while athletic student aid was 14.4 percent.
That reminds me of another interesting article I read in early December, about the same time ASU lost its head football coach for the second straight year to a richer athletic program and the UA hired a new coach. This one was done by USA Today, which has built a database of athletic financial information.
The authors took each Division I head football coach’s salary and divided it by the number of wins the team had, producing a cost per victory.
Of course, that’s somewhat unfair. Coaches don’t really win or lose games. They are paid to get their teams ready and to make on-the-field decisions. Still, the athletes must execute, and most of us would rather not have our livelihood depend on a bunch of 18- to 21-year-olds.
Some coaches are reaping great benefits so they are subject to such analyses.
The worst deal came for Southern Mississippi, which paid Ellis Johnson $790,000 and got not a single win. But Kansas paid Charlie Weis $2.5 million for his first year’s one win. Auburn paid Gene Chizek $3.5 million for three victories, then he was fired, only two years after producing a national championship, and Gus Malzahn was hired back from ASU.
For his ASU tenure Malzahn’s nine wins cost only $95,134 each, a bargain compared to the $212,500 the UA paid for John L. Smith’s four triumphs.
Nick Saban took Alabama to the national title game for $443,056 per win.
The best deal of all? That honor went to Kent State’s Darrell Hazell, who coached his team to 11 wins at about $27,273 each. That helped him get a better paying job at Purdue, but he lost his final Kent State game — to ASU, led by an interim coach, in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.