Sunday, November 21, 2010

No Leadership from the NCAA on "Slimming Sports Spending"

by: Matthew Denhart

CCAP's "25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College" report was highlighted last week in an Inside Higher Ed (IHE) article by David Moltz. In his article, Moltz nicely summarizes for readers the main points of our chapter calling on universities to "End the 'Athletics Arms Race'."

Some of the more prominent recommendations to cut athletic costs include: reigning in out-of-control coaches' salaries (especially in the sports of football and basketball), reducing the number of available scholarships, leasing out athletics facilities when not in use, and decreasing season lengths and travel distances. Many of the recommendations have been echoed by other groups, such as the Knight Commission in its latest report "Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports."

Many of these recommendations would require the cooperation and leadership of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). However, the NCAA's initial reaction to our report is not encouraging. When asked for a reaction from Moltz, here's what NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn had to say of the report:
"The overall context should be considered here... When looking at the median amount for FBS schools, approximately 1 percent of overall university budgets is allocated to athletics. For other Division I schools, the median was less than 4 percent of overall school budgets."
This comment reeks of indifference and is indicative of the NCAA's resistance to pursue necessary reforms. What's more, the figures cited to justify this indifference are very misleading. Sure, the median subsidy of athletics for all FBS schools is fairly small, around 1%. However, within the FBS, this percentage varies greatly by conference. As the graph below shows, in the Big 10 only 0.16% of university budgets go to subsidize athletics. Yet, in the poorer Mid American Conference (MAC), subsidies make up over 5% of the schools' overall budgets (see this CCAP study for more on the regressive athletics tax). At some schools this percentage is even larger. For example 10.5% of total core expenditures at SUNY Buffalo go to subsidize athletics. At another MAC school, Eastern Michigan, the figure is 7.9%.

The most important issue, of course, is how these subsidies--which the NCAA simply casts aside--affect students. The startling reality is that at many schools, students foot much of the athletics bill directly through student fees. Overcoming a serious lack of transparency, USA Today has gone to great lengths to show how massive these fees can be (see this table). The table below lists several institutions with the athletics fee each charges per year:

Longwood University $2,022
Norfolk State $1,440
College of William and Mary $1,422
Virginia Military Institute $1,362
Old Dominion University $1,133
James Madison University $1,114
Radford University $1,077

Note that the schools above are not in FBS conferences. However, even many FBS schools charge high student fees to subsidize sports. Here are a few examples:

Ohio University $765
University of Virginia $657
Bowling Green State University $650
SUNY Buffalo $474
University of Northern Illinois $453

Over the course of their 4+ years in college, students at many schools will have paid thousands of dollars to prop-up unprofitable athletics programs, regardless of their personal interest in sports. Our report laid out several realistic measures that could help save money while maintaining athletics. The NCAA arrogantly brushed it off, implying that there is no need to pursue cost-cutting measures. I think many students who are footing the bill would disagree. It's time the NCAA shows some real leadership for a change, but I'm not holding my breath.

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