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Athletics departments that make more than they spend still a minority

While athletics expenses continue to outpace revenue at a majority of schools, institutional funding for athletics has increased at a steady rate

The expenses generated by operating athletics programs continued to exceed the revenue they produce at the vast majority of Football Bowl Subdivision schools in 2014, continuing a trend seen in recent years, according to a new NCAA Study.

Only 24 FBS schools generated more revenue than they spent in 2014, according to the NCAA Revenues and Expenses of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics Programs Report. That figure jumped from 20 schools in 2013, but it has remained relatively consistent through the past decade.

Though the number of athletics departments reporting positive net generated revenues has increased slightly, the average of their net generated revenue has dipped in the past year. Those 24 schools, at the median, generated about $6 million in net revenue, compared to just over $8 million in 2013 and a little more than $2 million a decade ago.

But those 24 schools are a minority. Many more schools saw their expenses exceed their revenue, requiring their colleges and universities to cover the shortfall. The median FBS school spent $14.7 million to help subsidize its athletics department in 2014, up from a little more than $11 million in 2013. That level of spending isn’t unique to FBS schools – median Football Championship Subdivision and non-football schools spent roughly $11 million to help fund athletics in 2014.

"There is still a misperception that most schools are generating more money than they spend on college athletics," said NCAA Chief Financial Officer Kathleen McNeely. "These data show once again that the truth is just the opposite. 

"The overwhelming majority of colleges and universities in the NCAA across all three divisions subsidize part or all of athletics. The reason they invest is because sports provide educational value to student-athletes while enhancing overall campus life and building life-long connections with alumni and other supporters. Those are all important outcomes from athletic programs that are worth celebrating, sharing and investing in wisely.”

While schools spent more to subsidize athletics programs in 2014, the jump in athletics spending only increased by 2 percent over the median increase in institutional spending from the previous year. This was not the case a decade ago, when athletics subsidies were increasing roughly 5 percent faster per year than overall institutional spending.

“If athletics spending increases at a similar pace as overall institutional expenses, this may be sustainable,” said Todd Petr, NCAA managing director of research. “However, when the athletics budget rises more quickly than the institutional budget, institutions will have to take a larger percentage of institutional funds to support the athletics department.”

Division II and Division III revenues and expenses were also examined in separate reports. More highlights:

Division I

  • Adjusted for inflation, institutional allocations for athletics to cover any expenses that exceed generated revenue at FBS schools decreased by 0.2 percent from 2013. The figure rose by 1.5 percent at FCS schools and fell 0.9 percent at Division I schools without football.
  • Twenty percent of median athletics income at FBS schools came from institutional support, while that figure eclipsed 70 percent at FCS institutions and those without football.
  • Between 2013 and 2014, median revenues generated by athletics increased at a faster pace than expenses across Division I. Athletically generated revenues increased by 6.1 percent, 9.1 percent and 9.8 percent at FBS, FCS and schools without football, respectively. Meanwhile, athletics expenses at those schools increased by only 2.8 percent, 4.6 percent and 2.1 percent.

Division II

  • The study found a significant jump in student aid per athlete at Division II schools over the past decade. The median figure rose from $2,600 in 2004 to $5,000 in 2014 at schools with football. A similar jump – $4,200 to $7,300 – occurred at schools without football.
  • Cash contributions, sport camps and ticket sales account for almost all revenue generated by Division II athletics programs. Combined, though, they accounted for less than 9 percent of total revenues in 2014. The vast majority of the division’s athletics revenue came from institutional subsidies.
  • Schools with football have seen an uptick in athletics enrollment relative to the rest of the student body. In 2014, athletes accounted for 10.7 percent of the student body at schools with football, up from 8.5 percent in 2004. That figure has remained relatively stable – near 9 percent – for schools without football.

Division III

  • In 2014 alone, athletics expenses at schools without football increased by 11.5 percent. The increase is more modest (4.8 percent) at schools with football. The jump in 2014 continues an ongoing trend – expenses have increased by 118 percent at football schools and 157 percent at non-football schools since 2004.
  • Increased athletics expenses have been triggered, in part, by the upturn in the number of student-athletes on Division III campuses. Since 2004, the median number of athletes at Division III schools with football programs has jumped from 448 to 538. Among non-football schools, that figure has risen from 242 to 295.
  • Although total expenses and the number of athletes have increased, budget allocations for three major sports have remained steady. Football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball garnered 13 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent of athletics expenses, respectively, in 2014. Those numbers haven’t  strayed far from the figures gathered a decade ago. The figures indicate that resources are poured into a breadth of sports as many Division III schools continue to rely on athletics to maintain enrollment.