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Universities spend about six times more on athletes than students

A new study from the Delta Cost Project confirmed what just about all of us suspected, that universities spend multitudes more on athletics than individual students, with the SEC leading the way. These gaps add more voices to the growing clamor for NCAA reform.

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

Delta Cost, partnering with the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, has given college presidents something else to chew on when they head to their annual NCAA meeting this week. The numbers show that the "Big Six" BCS leagues are all spending more than 100,00 per student-athlete, with the SEC leading the way at $163,931 per athlete. Such spending may be cause for concern in it of itself, but each conference also spends less than $20,000 for the education of each student, creating massive disparities. The SEC's gap was the widest, spending 12.2 times more on athletes than their regular students. The Big Ten leads all major conferences in spending per student at $19,225, but still spends 6.1 times more on athletes than the student body at large.

Across Division 1, athletic spending rose twice as fast as academic spending from 2005-2010. Among football playing FBS schools, athletic spending rose by an average of $6,200 per student each year as well. The data does not examine spending ratios for individual institutions, and private schools, like Northwestern, are excluded from the data.

Instituting a salary cap for coaches as a way to reign in spending is probably unrealistic, but according to the AP, some presidents may want to look at other spending restrictions. Western Michigan University President John Dunn asks, "How many sport video analysts do you really need? While the NCAA wants to avoid being overly intrusive, they have never had a problem saying there should be x number of coaches and x number of scholarships awarded, why not also govern how many ancillary personnel you can have?"

The arms race of increased athletic spending, especially around football, comes as no surprise, especially as increasingly lucrative TV contracts have flooded even more money into the system. These new funds are not equally distributed however, and the gap between the Haves of college sports and the Have Nots is only likely to grow. In an era when universities often subsidize their athletic departments, often from student fee payments, and when state governments are strapped with difficult budget choices across the country, defending the status quo looks harder and harder.

The BCS has committed to trying 10 percent of their playoff payout money to certain academic benchmarks, but some, like Amy Perko of the Knight Commission, worry that it won't be enough.

On some level, it makes sense that athletic spending per student would be larger than per pupil spending of the student population at large. Purchasing athletic equipment and maintaining facilities are very expensive, and many student-athletes are less academically prepared, and require additional remediation to help them succeed. Spending more than 10 times what is spent on a regular undergraduate may exceed what is reasonable though.

A major program like Ohio State is somewhat insulated from budget concerns, given that their athletic department is profitable, and does not rely on student or university subsidy that the extent that others do. Ohio State's advantageous geographic location and relationship with other in state institutions also means they can keep recruiting costs down a little compared to a Tennessee or an Arkansas. However, as we could see with Maryland, budget concerns are not limited to only low and mid-majors.

Every SEC football coach is making at least $2 Million, even Kentucky. While it is clear that strong athletic programs are an excellent marketing tool for a university, and that students at large benefit from the athletic department, (14% of LSU's total revenue, including tuition, came from Tiger football) it may not be long before community members or lawmakers begin to question such extravagance, especially as belts tighten everywhere, and local students struggle to find ways to pay for school.

Failing that, the rumblings of inequality and structural competitive disadvantages from the low and mid major programs, especially Division 1 schools that do not sponsor football, will likely only get louder. Data like this makes arguing for a split in Division 1 a little bit easier.