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Michael Stock

Colleges spend too much on athletics, not necessarily enough on academics

The money required to balance the athletic department’s budget all too often comes from institutional funds that would otherwise be spent on the university’s stated mission of educating students. 

In the realm of college athletics, it is commonly believed that in order to be the best, schools have to hire the best coaches and have top-notch facilities in order to attract the best high school athletes. Having the best coaches and facilities isn’t cheap, and in order to meet those criteria, a huge investment on the part of the university is required.

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The money required to balance the athletic department’s budget all too often comes from institutional funds that would otherwise be spent on the university’s stated mission of educating students. Universities might also consider allocating some of the resources frivolously poured into athletic departments on updating old buildings, or providing useful tools for faculty to teach and research more efficiently and productively.

What really needs to be discussed when looking at university expenditures on college athletics is whether the universities make a return on their investment. For example, Ohio State University spent upwards of $114 million on athletics in 2008, but made more than $115 million. They did make a return of about $1.4 million on their investments all without spending any money directly taken from university funds or students.

Financial success isn’t rare among the most successful and most recognizable college sports teams, but what about the teams that aren’t so recognizable? If teams like Ohio State are barely breaking even on their athletic budgets, then it would stand to reason that the lesser schools must be struggling to support themselves on their own revenues, or that they must be leeching their budgets from the overall university budget.

That is exactly what is happening.

According to ESPN’s athletic spending and revenue database, Arizona State University spent nearly $10 million dollars from the university funds to subsidize its athletic department in 2008. ASU isn’t the only university to subsidize its athletic spending so heavily, but it is a good example of just how severe this problem has become.

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It is important to know the spending trends of the university as a whole because, if the university is spending more total money, then that spending increase could be reasonable. But the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics reveals what has taken a hit to increase athletic spending. The commission finds that during the period from 2005 to 2013, ASU increased athletic spending per student-athlete by nearly 47 percent, all while reducing academic spending per student by about 10 percent. So not only are they spending a great deal of university money on athletics, but they are spending money on athletics at the expense of their academic activities. This trend is not only contradictory to the mission of a university, but also detrimental to the pocketbooks of the students who attend ASU for strictly academic reasons.

Not surprisingly, this behavior is not unique to ASU. The same trend has been observed to an equal and sometimes greater magnitude at many universities, including Bowling Green and Akron. Even Ohio University has dabbled in this dangerous trend.

OU had the widest disparity of academic spending increases and athletic spending increases in Ohio. Between 2005 and 2013, OU reduced its per-student academic spending by about 1 percent, while increasing its per-student-athlete spending by 73 percent.

Simply put, in 2013 Ohio University spent about $14,000 for an average student, and spent about $64,000 for an average student-athlete.

This has created a huge disparity in the funding of athletic programs compared to academic programs. New money is actually flowing away from academic aspects of universities so that it might flow more freely into the athletic departments’ funds.

Universities should ask themselves the question: what’s the primary goal of their university? If it is to be the best at running around on a field or tossing a ball, then they should continue on their current course. But if it’s to provide a student — who is paying for an education, not necessarily for a good sports team — with a quality education for a reasonable value, then they might want to change course.


Michael Stock is a freshman studying chemistry at Ohio University and a research assistant at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Columns will be written by a different CCAP student from Ohio University each week. Email Michael at

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