Friday, December 06, 2013

Athletics are valued over academics at Kentucky colleges

“There is every reason to believe that the current direction of big-time college sports 
is leading us to even greater imbalances in the fiscal priority for athletics over academics.”
--Knight Commission Co-Chairman William E. “Brit” Kirwan, 
chancellor, University System of Maryland.

At this week's EKU Faculty Senate meeting, faculty heard a brief presentation on the general budgetary impact, and the somewhat more vague benefit to the university, if EKU were to escalate to the NCAA Div I FBS in football. Possible benefits include "rising" to the level of the University of Akron Zips.

Lots of faculty rumblings since then. To my knowledge, all of the states goals for the university are academic, and none are athletic. But we do love our sports.

On the heels of last spring's strategic reallocation which sequestered 10% of the university budget for strategic purposes, one wonders how the campus will respond to the idea that this is a strategic change that will distinguish the university. But one gets the distinct impression that faculty will not determine the outcome of this issue. It's not clear that students will either. Will students support the differentiated per student expenditures and supports athletes receive in these tough fiscal times? Will the statewide praise EKU received for making difficult budgetary decisions last year, look different next year?

Then, there is this from the Herald-Leader:
There's a reason some very famous quotes deal with the relationship between what people say and what they do with their money.

Some examples: "Put your money where your mouth is." "Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also."

Which makes us wonder about the values of Kentucky's public universities.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics this week released findings that show spending on athletes at Kentucky public universities in recent years grew at a much faster rate than spending on mere academic students.

At the University of Kentucky, in fact, academic spending per student fell 12 percent, according to the Knight data, between 2005 and 2011, while spending on athletes rose 7 percent.

Total spending at UK per athlete, including from athletic revenues, was $170,103 compared to average academic spending per student of $14,798.

But UK is hardly the most alarming school in this data. UK, with its high-profit sports of football and men's basketball, put relatively little from its general funds into athletes in 2011, averaging $1,682.
Not so at the regionals. As the chart here shows, Western Kentucky University, which has been on an athletic steroid trip in recent years, uses an average of $36,238 from university-wide monies per athlete.

Eastern is not far behind at $33,177, and Morehead, where spending on athletes jumped 121 percent between '05 and '11, comes in at $27,725.

Morehead is extreme but at every public university the growth in average spending on student athletes far outstripped that on other students.

This in a period when, as a punishing recession took hold, state funding contracted along with family resources. That means many students were faced with a range of bad choices: borrow more, leave school, cut back on either classes or studying to have more time to earn money to pay for school.
Not one of these is acceptable, each meaning that a student is either less likely to finish school or more likely to graduate with crippling debt. Or worse, leave with debt but no diploma.
In this context, university presidents in this poor state and the trustees who oversee them increased support for student athletes while allowing support for purely academic students to languish.
Certainly some will defend this, pointing out that athletes make up a small portion of the student population and that athletics adds an important, if unquantifiable, symbolic value to a school.
Of course, if symbols matter, then these spending decisions matter.

Speaking of symbols, UK takes pride in the $1 million athletics provides annually in academic scholarships, a number that in the context of UK's $2.7 billion annual budget could be viewed as largely symbolic.

The bottom line is this: When school administrators invest more in students who are athletes than those who aren't, it's a clear signal about an institution's values.
 This from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation:

Knight Commission Launches Groundbreaking, Interactive College Sports Spending Database

Users can examine trends as sports spending rises and academic spending remains stagnant

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics releases today its Athletic and Academic Spending Database for NCAA Division I ( to provide greater transparency for athletics finances and better measures to compare trends in academic and athletic spending. The user-friendly spending database provides unprecedented access to academic, athletic and football spending data, from a range of sources, for more than 220 public Division I institutions.

The primary goal of the database is to enable administrators, researchers, policymakers, taxpayers, fans, and others to compare trends in spending on core academic activities with spending on athletics in public Division I institutions. Trends in institutional funding for athletics through student fees and other institutional sources are also provided. Given the significant role football plays in shaping Division I spending patterns, football-only spending data are included for additional analyses. The database, which draws on data provided in various public reports, allows users to compare trends and search by institutions, conferences and subdivisions.

The online, interactive database is a follow up to the Commission’s 2010 report, Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports, which called for greater public transparency of athletics finances and incentives to encourage responsible spending in athletics. The report warned that spending trends in major college sports were not sustainable for most Division I colleges and universities.

“College athletics has the potential for so much good, but the current trajectory of spending is unsustainable,” said William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and co-chairman of the Commission. “We already see levels of spending at some universities that require them to divert substantial resources from their core academic responsibilities. We are hopeful this online database will help university leaders and policymakers develop practices and policies that bring better balance to athletic expenditures within the broader institutional missions.”

The database displays spending per student and spending per athlete data for each institution, Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) athletic conference, Division I subdivision and FBS spending quartile. Users can customize comparisons using different spending variables and generate reports to adjust for inflation. Athletic spending projections for 2015 and 2020 are estimated using prior rates of change.

The database provides a number of opportunities to make comparisons and trend assessments, such as:
  • Comparing athletic spending per athlete to academic spending per student. From 2005-2011, in every Division I subdivision, athletic spending per athlete grew at a faster rate than academic spending per student. The gap is largest among those institutions competing in the FBS and smallest among those institutions without football.
  • Evaluating the growth of athletics expenses without the costs of scholarships. From 2005-2011, academic spending per student at institutions in the FBS grew just 3% after adjusting for inflation, while athletic spending per athlete grew 31% and football spending per football player grew 52% even without considering spending on athletic scholarships.
  • Examining the significant growth in coaching salaries at institutions and conferences. The growth in coaching salaries has been a big factor in athletic spending growth rates: among the five conferences with the largest athletics budgets, median coaching salaries increased as much as 54% in inflation-adjusted terms from 2005 to 2011, compared to 24% for all FBS schools.
  • Comparing the growth in institutional funding for athletics through student fees and other institutional funding sources with the growth in academic spending.  From 2005-2011, in every Division I subdivision, the growth in institutional funding to athletics per athlete was greater than the growth in academic spending per student. The same general trend is represented in each of the FBS spending quartiles, except for the top spending quartile where more significant growth in generated revenues has decreased the reliance on institutional funding through student fees and other institutional sources.
  • Projecting spending out to 2020 by athletic conference and FBS spending quartile. The median football spending per scholarship football player at all FBS institutions is expected to rise from $138,424 in 2011 to $212,303 in 2020, based on prior growth rates and controlling for inflation. By comparison, in the top FBS spending quartile, the 2011 median spending level of $243,900 per scholarship football player is estimated to increase to nearly $400,000 in 2020.
By providing athletic and academic spending levels on a per capita basis, the Knight Commission aims to improve the understanding of the trends in athletic spending within the larger context of institutional spending on academics and instruction. There are legitimate reasons that spending per athlete may be greater than education-related spending per student. However, there continues to be concern about the unbalanced spending levels and patterns at many universities.

The Knight Commission released Restoring the Balance in 2010 to recommend solutions for the growing financial challenges facing college athletics and changes to the incentives that reward winning over meeting basic educational objectives. The report called for greater transparency of athletic finances; for rewarding practices that make academic values a priority; and, for treating college athletes as students, not as professionals. It also introduced a concept to reward institutions that demonstrated an appropriate balance between institutional investments in athletics and education. Since its release, two major recommendations from the report have been adopted:
  • The NCAA adopted the Knight Commission’s recommendation that teams be on track to graduate at least half of their players in order to be eligible for postseason championships.
  • The future College Football Playoff will tie a specific portion of its revenue distribution to all FBS institutions to the academic success of each team’s football players. If a team fails to achieve a specified Academic Progress Rate, it will forfeit that portion of the money.
Recommendations in Restoring the Balance also called for NCAA rules to require colleges to make their NCAA financial reports public, better measures to compare academic and athletic spending and their rates of change, and better information on long-term debt and capital spending. The Knight Commission’s spending database incorporates all of the recommended measures.

ABOUT THE DATABASE: The athletic financial data in the Commission’s database are based on NCAA financial reports collected by USA TODAY from public institutions in NCAA's Division I that have a legal obligation to release the data. USA TODAY publishes some of the data in its NCAA Athletics Finance Database.  The NCAA does not release the data publicly. Other data come from reports each institution is required to file with the federal government.

Academic spending was calculated by the Delta Cost Project at the American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit policy and research organization that develops data and policy tools to improve productivity and public accountability for performance in postsecondary education. The Delta Project calculates the direct and indirect costs related to educating students (referred to as Education and Related spending) using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS, The Education and Related spending metric provides the most comparable data across all Division I institutions to assess trends in institutional spending related to the academic mission.

The Knight Commission spending database will be updated with 2012 data next year when academic spending data for that reporting year are made available through IPEDS.

Visit the Knight Commission’s Athletic and Academic Spending Database for NCAA Division I ( for more information.


Anonymous said...

No suprises here. Just keep going down the same old path which will result in even greater disparities as athletic programs invest more in facilities and support services in order to compete with the other U's new stuff.

Sports evolved as clubs and at some point became kingdoms unto themselves. I say we quit playing this charade about the "student-athlete" and either require them to be clubs again or, like so many other departments are hearing with more frequeny - self sustaining.

Education is changing and more non traditional, second career, second degree folks are going to school via the internet. They don't want to pay extra for an athlete to get a free ride so the university can sell some T-shirts, get a spot on Thursday night ESPN 4 or make alumni try to pretent to relive their college days a couple of times a year.

Anonymous said...

Folks,its not just post secondary, it urban areas hoping for golden lining through new arenas all the way down, adults spending the night tailgating on Friday nights at the county football game and parents spending tons of dough on private lessons, expensive equipment and traveling team costs.

I like a good game like anyone else but sports have just gotten out of control. Look at our paper and electronic media - sports section or nightly news devotes as much time to sports as it does local/state/national news. Do we really need as much time hearing from Coach Cal about why some 18 and 19 year olds didn't defeat another team as we do time devoted to coverage of a tornado's destruction or our president telling us about potential NSA violations to our liberties?

Sports is just an other form of entertainment or means of cultivating a superficial sense of community based around a team identify/sport.

It is just disappointing that our president is more interested in taking EKU down the same rabbit hole as so many other regional universities are doing. Wonder how powerful it would be instead if he would have said he was working with Bluegrass Depot to establish an R&D site for bio fuels or alternative energies which could help employ all those folks who will be out of a job in a few years as well as potential opportunities for expansion of those skills for transplantation to eastern Kentucky? A handful of folks might relish a memory of their college team wining a bowl or championship but every graduate is expecting a job for those years invested at EKU.