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Athletic spending increases while academic spending remains flat

By JM Rieger
On February 19, 2013

The following article reports information assessed by The Miami Student and uses Miami University data.

Miami University is projected to spend more than $43,000 per student athlete, compared to more than $15,000 per general student this year, according to analysis by The Miami Student.

The analysis follows a series of reports from the Delta Cost Project at American Institutes for Research tracking how academic spending at public and private universities has remained flat or decreased, while athletic spending has continued to rise. The Project released the reports in partnership with the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

At Miami, athletic spending increased more than 13 percent from 2008-2012, while academic spending increased 0.14 percent, before adjusting for inflation. Academic spending includes five metrics outlined by the Delta Cost Project: Instructional and Departmental Research, Academic Support, Student Services, Institutional Support and Plant Operation and Maintenance.

The projected $28,600 gap in athlete to student spending is based off Miami's self-reported number of student athletes and the number of total undergraduate and graduate students in the university system. Athletic spending is determined by the budget for Miami's Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA).

The Oxford campus student General Fee funds much of Miami's athletic budget. This year the General Fee is projected to make up 66 percent of ICA's budget and the Fee has funded at least 61 percent of the budget since 2008. However, that number has fallen nearly 5 percent from 2008-2012.

Oxford campus students have paid more than $900 per student each of the past three years to fund the athletic department, more than half of the total General Fee and the highest percentage in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in 2011, according to a study by Kent State University. This year students are projected to pay $950 to fund athletics of the nearly $1,800 projected Oxford campus General Fee.

Miami's athletic department lost more than $16.5 million last year and has lost nearly $60 million since 2008.

"If we're going to continue to offer Division I programs, there's a certain cost to doing that, and we need to do that efficiently, but it doesn't do us any good to do it in a way that diminishes our ability to even be competitive in those programs," David Creamer, Miami vice president for finance and business services, said. "The only way to dramatically change the cost structure is to no longer compete at the Division I level, and at this point in time that's not been a decision that our [Board of Trustees] or anyone has wanted to endorse."

According the Delta Cost Project's "Academic Spending Versus Athletic Spending: Who Wins?" report, MAC schools spent more than $52,000 per athlete in 2010, four times what conference members spent per student. The average Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school spent nearly $92,000 per athlete, more than $78,000 what institutions spent per student on average. The Southeastern Conference had the largest disparity, spending 12 times more money on athletes than on students.

According to Creamer though, athletic spending will inevitably be higher than academic spending due to the resources required.

"I think [the report's] approach was reasonable, I'm not so sure the question they asked was very reasonable," Creamer said. "It was known going in that when you have all the expenses associated with an intercollegiate athletic sport, and you associate that as spending on the student only that is participating in that, I think is mischaracterizing what intercollegiate athletics are about. It's both for the athlete ... but it's also there for the benefit of the students who don't directly participate."

WMSR Sports Director Ross Simon was not surprised by the report.

"Money in college sports ... I mean that's what drives the business," Simon said. "Money is obviously a major driver within the student experience, in particular in intercollegiate athletics, and I think that's a major problem."

Nationally, FBS spending per athlete grew 51 percent compared to 23 percent for students from 2005-2010. The Football Championship Subdivision and Division I institutions without football programs followed similar trends but had half the spending discrepancy between athletes and students compared to the FBS average.

Budget cuts to Miami's athletic department are set to begin next year, outlined by the Strategic Priorities Task Force. There will be a 0.8 percent cut to ICA's budget next year, followed by a 0.7 percent cut in fiscal year 2015. Creamer said final decisions on cuts will be made in the spring.

"For now our goal is more focused on how do we ensure that as we compete at this level that we're doing it efficiently so that the cost that is passed onto a student is maintained at the lowest level possible," Creamer said.

The spending gap between athletes and students concerns Simon.

"The only reason intercollegiate athletics has a purpose here is for the potential of intercollegiate athletics," Simon said. "I don't think any student should be valued at a higher rate than someone else. But the fact that these major programs are spending more on the student athlete is to me disgusting, especially based on the fact that many of these institutions ... are public. I don't think that ICA right now contributes to the student experience of enough students to justify it."

However, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Business and Finance Josh Fenton said ICA is an integral part of higher education and can be viewed as a "front porch" for a university.

"If we're allocating resources that are aligning in ways that helps the student athlete grow over their four or five years, I think we're aligning with the mission of the university," Fenton said. "And I also think there's a sense of school spirit, school pride that transcends beyond who the athletes are today. The spending, right wrong or indifferent, ultimately needs to go back to how does this help our student athletes grow into becoming better people in society."

Former Miami Athletic Department Intern Nick Miller said intercollegiate athletics still add to the student experience.

"I think the value added that it gives the university is still higher than the cost it is to students," Miller said. "[However], is it fair to ask students to pay this large percentage of money to the athletic budget and kind of supplement their budget if the students aren't getting their return on investment that we're asking for from intercollegiate athletics? Right now it's hard to say if we're succeeding or failing in that aspect."

According to Creamer, there are no plans to reallocate athletic resources.

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