Most college sports programs feed off students, subsidies

public be damnedWhat does it say about our value system when coaches at public universities make far more money than full professors?

What is the lesson being taught when financially strapped students and their families are forced to subsidize the exorbitant pay of coaches whose services benefit only a few athletes?

A weary observer might say: Welcome to the American economic system, where those with power call the tune and take whatever they can get.

On Monday, I referred to a Cleveland newspaper series that revealed 51 coaches at public universities in Ohio received compensation ranging from $200,000 to $6.6 million. The golf coach at Kent State was paid $562,916 in fiscal 2015-2016. Compensation for full professors there ranges from about $125,000 to $140,000.

With the exception of Ohio State and its lucrative football team, intercollegiate athletic programs at most Ohio public universities don’t pay their own way.  The Plain analyzed financial data  filed with the NCAA by 10 public universities that subsidize Division I sports — Akron, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Cleveland State, Kent State, Miami, Ohio University, Toledo, Wright State and Youngstown State.

The total cost of athletics at these institutions was $282.1 million. The sports programs, however,  generated only $113.6 million in revenue. The deficit required a $168.5 million subsidy from student fees, tax dollars and other public money.

The cost of athletic programs amounted to an average of $872 a year for full-time students at these 10 schools, the newspaper reported. Many schools generated this money directly from fees charged to all students. Others made the investments from other non-athletic accounts.

The millions of dollars in subsidies benefited relatively few students. A total of 3,976 students participated in athletics at these 10 universities during the 2015-16 school year. These same schools had close to 150,000 undergraduate students.

The situation in Ohio is typical of university athletics nationwide. A USA Today report several years ago found that just 23 of 228 athletic departments at NCAA Division I public schools generated enough money on their own to cover their expenses.

In January, the University of California Board of Regents was forced to raise tuition and student fees despite widespread protests. The 10-campus system, hit by major state funding cutbacks, is struggling with higher student-faculty ratios, fewer courses, fewer teaching assistants and reduced student services.

Meanwhile, the 30-team athletic department at UC Berkeley ran a $22 million deficit last year and expects to end this fiscal year deep in the red, according to the Bloomberg news service.  A major problem is the program’s long-term debt. After completing the most expensive college football stadium overhaul ever, the Golden Bears now owe more money than any other college sports program, Bloomberg reported.

Annual payments on its whopping $445 million debt will be $18 million until 2032, when they jump to $26 million, Bloomberg said. They’ll peak at $37 million a year in 2039. The school plans to pay off the full sum by 2053, though the loan extends to 2112.

“Not only does athletics have a problem on account of the debt service, but it’s also taking up a huge chunk of our available borrowing,” said physics professor Bob Jacobsen, a faculty representative for athletics. In addition, he noted, professors are losing research opportunities due to funding concerns.



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