College sports enriches academics? Dead wrong. Here's the data to prove it

September 22nd 2014

Matthew Segal

Proponents of college athletics cite many arguments in their favor: enhanced campus pride, entertainment value, promoting student leadership, etc. Fair enough. But arguing that sports enrich academic culture is no longer just an increasingly tenuous claim, it's dead wrong.

Data from the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a watchdog group, indicates that Division I schools with football spend about 7 times more per student athlete, while a recent report from the American Association of University Professors reveals that the gap in spending between academics and athletics is similarly disturbing, if not worse, at Division II, Division III, and community colleges.

Community colleges, for instance, have increased their student athlete spending by 35 percent, while spending on instruction, research, and public service has been cut or stayed the same. A co-author of the report, Saranna Thornton, believes that the hyper-focus on sports is a marketing ploy for prospective students. In theory, more students equals more tuition money (especially if they can pay full price).

But the reality that student athletic programs earn revenue for their schools, with a few exceptions, is pure bunk.

According to the American Association of University Professors:

The NCAA collects annual data on revenues and expenses of athletics programs from its member institutions. In the reports for 2012, of the more than one thousand college and university members of the NCAA, only twenty-three institutions [less than 2.5%] reported that their athletic programs ran a surplus, with revenues greater than expenses.

Tabling, for now, the conversation that colleges are shirking their responsibility to promote academics first: if they are truly focused on making a profit, it appears they should pursue different means.