New database reveals academic and athletic spending trends at public universities

communities / Article

December 4, 2013 by Amy Perko


Knight Foundation founded the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in 1989 to recommend reforms in college sports that emphasized academic values. Amy Perko has been executive director of the commission since 2005. Photo credit: Flickr user Daniel X. O'Neil.

Today we’re releasing our “Athletic and Academic Spending Database for NCAA Division I” to improve the understanding of the trends in athletic spending relative to spending on academics

The online tool is a follow-up to our 2010 report, “Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports,” which called for greater public transparency in athletic finances and incentives to encourage responsible spending. The report warned that spending trends in major college sports were unsustainable for most Division I colleges and universities. 

The database offers users unprecedented access to academic, athletic and football spending data for more than 220 public Division I institutions. It draws on data provided by each institution in various public reports, such as NCAA financial reports and the federal government's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The database allows users to compare trends and search data by institution, athletic conference and Division I subdivision.

The information also provides an overview of trends in institutional funding for athletics allocated from student fees and other institutional sources. As noted in a recent report by Moody’s Investors Service, “90 [percent] of athletics programs are not self-sustaining, requiring growing subsidies, which divert funding away from other university operations.”  The database allows users to examine resource allocation patterns for each Division I public university from 2005 to 2011. (We plan to update the information when 2012 data is available through IPEDS next year.)

Also, given the significant role football plays in shaping Division I spending patterns, we’ve included football-only spending data for comparisons and analyses.

For example, to understand the differences in the growth in academic spending and football spending at institutions whose football programs compete in the NCAA's top division, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), a user can generate a custom report by clicking comparison metrics, the years to include in the trend analysis and the inflation adjustment tool. A report will quickly display the dollar amounts and percentage growth, along with a graph.  (Click the following link to see the graph and report generated:

Among the trends that can be spotted from this analysis:

From 2005-2011, academic spending per student at institutions in the FBS grew just 3 percent after adjusting for inflation. However, football spending per football player grew 52 percent even without considering spending on athletic scholarships.

One of the big factors in athletic spending growth has been the growth in coaching salaries. An examination of the growth in salaries using the database reveals the following:

Among the five conferences with the largest athletic budgets, median coaching salaries increased as much as 54 percent in inflation-adjusted terms from 2005 to 2011, compared to 24 percent for all FBS schools.

(Click the following link to view the report generated for this analysis:

The rising costs of college sports and the absence of incentives to encourage responsible spending and desired educational outcomes led us to produce recommendations addressing these issues in our 2010 “Restoring the Balance” report. Since the report’s release, the NCAA has adopted two major reforms consistent with our recommendations:

•       Teams must be on track to graduate at least half of their players 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.

These actions continue our successful history of influencing reforms in college sports that began with the landmark 1991 report, “Keeping Faith With the Student Athlete.”  That report shaped many of the academic reforms adopted by the NCAA over the past two decades, leading to improved graduation rates. 

With the financial stakes in college sports rising, we believe this spending database can help shape the debate by better informing and engaging the higher education community about these issues. The database should help lead to practices and policies that will improve the long-term financial prospects for college sports by bringing a better balance to athletic spending within the broader institutional missions.

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