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Weighing the high cost of college athletics

Jim Burress Jan 16, 2013

Weighing the high cost of college athletics

Jim Burress Jan 16, 2013

CORRECTION:An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of JC Bradbury. The text has been corrected.

Universities in NCAA Division I spent $6 billion in 2010 on athletics. But even as academic spending is largely flat, money for sports continues to pour in. A new report out says universities may want to reexamine their game plans.

To understand the growing disparity, let’s consider two students at a made-up Division I school. We’ll call it “Hypothetical University.”

Hypothetical student A is a chemistry major. Hypothetical student B plays baseball. For student A, Hypothetical University spends about $14,000 a year. For student B, the athlete, “Hypo-U” spends about $92,000 a year.

Donna Desrochers authored the spending disparity study for the Delta Cost Project. She says the gap between athletic and academic spending is growing.

“It’s certainly a concern in that we’ve seen a large increase, and it creates pressures in the system,” Desrochers says.

Pressure in the system, meaning universities that don’t have lucrative TV deals or sell-out crowds still have to attempt to keep up with sports programs that do.

Kennesaw State University sports management professor JC Bradbury says most athletic programs lose money.

“And it’s easy to look at that and say, ‘Shouldn’t we shut this down?’” says Bradbury. But the answer is often “no,” he says, because those programs act as a billboard for the school.

But is the high price of athletics worth it?

Jim Cole is athletic director at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. It’s one of the smallest Division I schools in the nation. He says athletics are a cost of doing business, because they lure in top students.

When Cole was playing basketball as a senior in high school, his familiarity with sports powerhouses prompted him to apply to those schools.

“I recognized schools from the sports programs they had, because at the time they had good basketball programs,” says Cole.

And in the best cases, sports can supplement academics.

At sports powerhouse University of Kentucky, profits from its athletic programs are paying for more than half of two new academic buildings.

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