Athletic Departments in Most NCAA Division I Public Colleges Spend Three to Six Times More Per Athlete Than Their Institutions Spend to Educate Each Student

Washington, D.C. – The athletic departments of most public colleges and universities competing in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I sports typically spend three to six times as much per athlete as their institutions spend to educate each of their students, according to a new report by the Delta Cost Project at the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

The report Academic Spending Versus Athletic Spending: Who Wins?also shows that athletic costs increased at least twice as fast as academic spending, on a per-capita basis, across each of the three Division I subdivisions between 2005 and 2010.

athletic versus academic spendingThe median athletic spending for institutions competing in the top tier – the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) – was $92,000 per athlete in 2010 while median academic spending per full-time student was less than $14,000. Overall, median academic spending per full time student in the other Division I subdivisions was about $11,800 in 2010, while athletic spending per athlete ranged from $37,000 to $39,000.

The report provides information that is organized around the NCAA categories for football – the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A), Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), and Division I, No Football (formerly Division I-AAA). The spending analysis, however, includes all expenditures for intercollegiate sports by athletic departments.

In the FBS and Football Championship Subdivision, athletic spending per athlete increased by about 50 percent between 2005 and 2010 (unadjusted for inflation) while academic spending per student increased by 22 to 23 percent.

The study also shows that most athletic departments receive subsidies from their colleges and universities because they do not generate enough revenue to cover all of their costs. Three out of four of the athletic departments of the 97 public institutions in the FBS analysis generated less money than they spent in any year between 2005 and 2010, according to the report. Athletic subsidies to offset revenue shortfalls are typically funded by student fees, and state and institutional funds.

“Participation in intercollegiate athletics in the United States comes with a hefty price tag, one that is usually paid in part by students and institutions,” said Donna Desrochers, the author of the report. “Public institutions with Division I athletic programs have continued to invest significant resources in athletics, even as academic budgets were under strain during the recent recession.”

Examining trends in spending at public colleges and universities between 2005 and 2010, the report found: 

  • In the so-called “power conferences” – Southeastern (SEC), Big 12, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast (ACC), Big Ten and Big East – the median athletic spending per athlete topped $100,000 in 2010, and each conference spent at least six times more on athletics than academics, on a per capita basis. 
  • Most Division I athletic departments receive support from their institutions and students. In the Football Bowl Subdivision, student fees cover 7.6 percent of athletic budgets, while 10.1 percent comes from institution and state support. In the Football Championship Subdivision and the Division I, No Football subdivision, more than 70 percent of athletic budgets are supplied by student fees, and institution and state support. 
  • Although academic resources were strained after the recent recession, only the affluent Football Bowl Subdivision reined in escalating athletic spending per athlete in 2010. Athletic subsidies per athlete continued to increase in all subdivisions despite financial constraints. 
  • Salaries and compensation account for roughly one-third of athletic spending at all Division I institutions, while spending on facilities and equipment accounts for 20 percent. 
  • Smaller institutions rely more heavily on student fees to cover athletic expenses than their larger counterparts. At public institutions that do not compete in football, for example, student fees account for 42.2 percent of athletic department revenue.

This is a Delta Cost Project at AIR report; although it contains data produced for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, all analyses and conclusions are those of the author only. The academic data is from the Delta Cost Project Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Database; data on athletic spending data is from USA Today’s NCAA Athletics Finance Database; and student athlete data is from the Equity in Athletics Database, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education.

The report is available on the Delta Cost Project at AIR website,, and the AIR website,

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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