Which universities spend the most on athletics?

Number one is UT Austin, at $112.9 million a year, followed by Ohio State, U. Florida, Louisiana State, U. Tennessee, Wisconsin-Madison, Auburn, Alabama, U. OK, and then USC, which is still spending $80 million a year.

That is from Charles’s Clotfelter’s very good new book Big-Time Sports in American Universities.  Clotfelter is relatively sympathetic to sports in universities and considers their fundraising and civic virtue advantages.  Of course those numbers are gross and not net expenditures.


My understanding is that UT's Athletic Department makes a profit, though (e.g.: http://www.aolnews.com/2009/06/15/texas-is-tops-in-sports-revenue/, from a few years ago). Not very many others are.

I think Professor Clotfelter's sympathy towards the sports-industrial complex would be natural. As an employee of Duke he has a stake in a smallish, but highly-profitable big-time sports business. I'll add that I share his sympathies and rooting interest.

The real question is which of these universities are in the black? If Ohio State spends $100M and makes $300M for better higher education and less subsidies, then more power to them. But if a university is hemorrhaging money, then that is a different story. The question is, how important is Athletics and is there a net benefit in terms of donations (even if the program itself loses money).

I can't give you a cite, but my recall is that studies suggest that there is no benefit in terms of donations, other than to the athletic dept itself. Indeed, there are claims that a succesful program diverts donations from academic to athletic purposes.

Perhaps Clotfelter presents data on this question.

The TV contract for the new UT TV network endows a chair in physics and one in philosophy.

A collegiate sports program is just one big advertising campaign for a university. Beyond bringing in more applications, it encourages alumni to give to the school. Following the sports team throughout the rest of my life continuously reminds me of the good times I had in college, and makes it more likely for me to send in a check.

Thus, the actual profit of program is almost impossible to measure.

These costs have been examined minutely at University of California Berkeley. Last year's subsidy to athletics was a little over $12 million. Football and men's basketball make money; most of the other programs don't (although rugby is an odd exception at Cal). Given the severe budget constraints Berkeley faces, the chancellor decided to reduce the subsidy to $5 million. As a result, the university announced in September it was cutting six sports.

Five of those sports have raised enough money from private donors that they have been spared the axe. Only men's gymnastics remains on the chopping block.

I suspect the scale of Cal's subsidy for athletics would be reflected at many other Division I universities.

It's also an object of constant wonder that the two highest paid state employees in California are the football coaches of Cal and UCLA (both over $2 million).

This is true in most states.

Most athletic programs do not turn a profit because they re-invest what they earn in tix sales and tv rights back into their programs. Let's not kid ourselves here, the few programs that turn profits aren't allocating them to medical research. I enjoy college sports thoroughly, but the whole deal is based on young cheap labor being unfairly and inappropriately compensated; "black" sports (football and basketball), to put it crudely, subsidize "white" sports (swimming, golf, etc). The whole thing makes me queasy...and yet I still watch.

As I have said repeatedly to anyone who would listen (seems nobody does though), the pairing of athletics and universities makes me sick. If these programs turn profits and could provide funds for the intellectual advancement I would be willing to tolerate them. Otherwise I see absolutely no sense and feel very sad about it. Universities should be for research, teaching and learning, not sports.

Usually when no one is listening to you there is a valid reason.

Hard to be a prophet in one's [adopted] homeland:(

Sometimes it is. Sometimes it's because they don't want to hear.

Why do you think it is a good idea for college athletics to turn a profit to subsidize research? I'm curious why you have an axe to grind against college athletics.

The word university is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, roughly meaning "community of teachers and scholars.

I don't think there's a problem with athletics and universities per se - but I do see a problem with universities functioning as de facto minor league systems for the NFL and NBA, which is what they do in Div I / Bowl Subdivision sports. Kemba Walker, the NCAA Mens Basketball Player of the Year (and best player on this year's champs, University of Connecticut), apparently graduated without reading a book. See http://offthebench.nbcsports.com/2011/04/12/kemba-walker-says-hes-only-read-one-book-in-his-entire-life/

Thank you, Gimlet. And am I the only one who is offended that he would (or already does) have a university diploma?

It's hard to analyze the profitability of athletics departments, because much (if not most) of their revenue comes from merchandise sales and licensing agreements, which are typically handled by a licensing department at the university which is separate from the athletic department. Many athletics departments, including Ohio State I believe, actually run at a deficit on paper but are clearly a benefit to the university.

Also, the entire value of the "subsidy" and more is usually returned in the form of heavily discounted student and faculty tickets to sports events.

Lastly, sports are the best marketing tools schools have, and they help them compete for top students despite the fact that they're criticized for giving scholarships to a lot of poor students. Look at the freshman class statistics for any college before and after a big sports year. It makes a huge difference.

Cutting athletics, even non-revenue athletics, is probably not the best way to balance a university budget unless it's under extreme stress.

This website does a pretty good breakdown of revenues and costs. http://ope.ed.gov/athletics/

Patinator, I wouldn't use that site. The Office of Postsecondary Education doesn't distinguish between revenue sources, which has the effect of counting state subsidies for athletics as revenue. Unfortunately a lot of lazy journalists cite those numbers instead of filing open records request. The real info comes from when each athletic department has to file an annual Revenues and Expenses report with the NCAA.

I'm informed (I live in Austin) that UT athletics pulled in $130M, which means that they pulled in $20M profit.

Yeah, right.

Do these numbers count the value of the land on which these facilities are situated?
How about the cost of the parking lots which they monopolize during events? (Yes, I had to hunt for parking one Saturday I was going to take a high-stakes test.)
Do they factor in all the remedial "education" that the "student"-athletes receive?

Would the "advertising" value of a college sports program, especially a "winning" one, have any impact on recruiting tuition-paying, new students? It provides the name of the school with enough free national press and air time to make Anheuser-Busch drool. Does that name recognition have any effect on impressionable kids who are choosing a college to want to be associated with a "winner", instead of telling their friends they're going to a school nobody has heard of?

For an older perspective, see Murray Sperber's Beer and Circus, which I wrote about at the link and argues that sports are ruining undergrad education. I'm not sure the correlation implies causation but like the book.

I appreciate TC's distinction between net and gross revenue.

And wonder, if disguised fixed costs, silent subsidies, and phantom revenue (a commentor above calls the discounts on student tickets a 'value' that more than balances the direct subsidies) are excluded, whether the net position might be even worse than the gross, for most universities outside the top 20 programs in basketball and football? Even for those, I must say I remain deeply suspicious of the accounting offered of the universities' 'profits', which appear to me to be curiously similar to the accountings now offered by many arts organizations for the local 'benefits' of their operations. Don't get me wrong, I'm a strong supporter of the arts -- but am suspicious of the large alleged profits they bring cities, etc. I'm equally suspicious of the paper profits imputed to a few high-profile university sports programs.

Does a good year drive up freshman applications? Sure! Are the applications of higher quality than the usual pool, or is the take rate of higher-quality applicants greater by the end of admissions season? Show me the evidence.

For information, here's the source (for 2004-05 at least):
UT, BTY made $7.2M. Ohio State basically broke even. UT's numbers include $1.4M of 'direct institutional support' - whatever that is - and $8.6M in 'advertising and sponsorship'.
UT is a special case. Much of the machination behind the restructuring of conferences stemmed from UT's desire to create its own television network, a la the Big Ten Network. Pac 10 wouldn't allow it, so UT stuck with the Big 12, which would crumble into dust without UT.
And one thing the conference realignment proved - it's not athletics. It's football football football. Otherwise, conferences would have been at least a little interested in University of Kansas.

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everybody forgot this article about Cal-Tech basketball team?

"Now, he recruits basketball players who happen to be among the nation’s top academic minds."


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