NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The High Cost of Intercollegiate Athletics

March 9, 2011

Intercollegiate athletics (ICA) are becoming an increasingly expensive venture at America's colleges and universities, and threaten to crowd out other higher education activities, including the core mission of teaching and research.  Some big-time athletic powers have athletic budgets exceeding $100 million annually, according to a study by Matthew Denhart, a research associate, and David Ridpath, a senior fellow, at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

  • As institutions dig into their own pockets to fund ICA programs not supported by ticket, logo, concession, broadcasting, parking revenues or private gifts, they are increasingly forced to rely directly on funds provided by student fees.
  • In other cases, institutional subsidies implicitly drain resources that could otherwise support the core academic missions of teaching and research.
  • General tuition fees may be raised to cover academic costs that would have been fundable from other revenues were it not for rising athletic costs.

The funding of ICA has historically been mired by secrecy and, arguably, deception.  Schools have fought to keep the public from knowing the subsidy students pay, the salary of the football coach, some of the less than optimal practices used to maintain player eligibility, say Denhart and Ridpath.

Source: Matthew Denhart and David Ridpath, "Funding the Arms Race:  A Case Study of Student Athletic Fees," Center for College Affordability, January 2011.

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