Colleges spending much more on student-athletes

Public colleges and universities that compete in some of the top NCAA conferences spend between three and six times as much money per athlete as they do to educate each student, according to a recently released study.

The reports say median athletic spending for institutions that compete in the top tier Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS, spent $92,000 per athlete in 2010 while spending less than $14,000 per student on academics.

The disparity is even greater in the country’s college football powerhouse, the Southeastern Conference, where in 2010 schools paid roughly $160,000 per athlete, but only about $14,000 to educate each nonathlete student, the report says. Public universities in the six most-prominent conferences — the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, Big 12 and Big East — all spent more than $100,000 per athlete in 2010. According to the report, only four schools could claim that distinction in 2009.

The “Academic Spending Versus Athletic Spending” study was put together by the Delta Cost Project, part of the nonprofit American Institutes for Research, based in Washington, D.C. On its website, AIR calls itself “one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research organizations.”

The report comes at a time when schools across the country are working with smaller and smaller budgets as states have cut costs during the recession.

The same is true in Louisiana, where public colleges and universities have absorbed $625 million in budget cuts since 2008, according to the state Board of Regents.

Louisiana has four public FBS schools — LSU, Louisiana Tech University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

Spokespersons at the schools, last week, said they were unclear how the Delta Cost Project compiled its numbers, and could not re-create the data to come up with athletics versus academics spending comparisons at their universities.

LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said that “coaching salaries could greatly skew the per-student cost because of the market-driven salaries of a handful of coaches versus the relatively small pool of student athletes.”

Around the country, three of four FBS school athletic departments spent more money than they generated between 2005 and 2010, the reports says, with roughly one-third of those dollars going toward salaries and another 20 percent funding equipment and facilities.

Institutions generally make up the disparity of how much their athletic departments spend and how much they generate through student fees, the report says.

Ballard said LSU is different from most other institutions in that the LSU Athletic Department is self-sustaining and operates without the benefit of student fees or state dollars.

Late last year, the LSU Board of Supervisors approved an agreement where the Athletic Department would transfer $7.2 million annually — $36 million over five years — to support university academics.

The policy also includes a revenue-sharing component that could mean even more dollars for the academic campus should the LSU Athletic Department generate a budget surplus.

LSU’s total athletic revenue comes from a variety of sources such as ticket sales, TV and radio contracts and merchandising as well as donations through the Tiger Athletic Foundation.

According to numbers submitted under the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, LSU ranked sixth nationally in 2011-2012 with revenues of $113.9 million, with about 60 percent — $68.8 million — generated by the Tiger football team.