Knight Commission Launches Groundbreaking, Interactive College Sports Spending Database

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

Dec. 4, 2013 - 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, http://nces.ed.gov/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 (http://spendingdatabase.knightcommission.org/) for more information.

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 in response to more than a decade of highly visible scandals in college sports. The goal of the Commission was to promote a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in a climate in which commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education. More information including recommendations from its 2010 report can be accessed at KnightCommission.org.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

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Stacey Finkel, finkelstacey@gmail.com, 703.304.1377

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.