College sports vs. academics: A losing game

Published: Friday, Feb. 22 2013 10:50 p.m. MST

In the state of Utah, Utah Valley University got 89 percent of its athletic funding from subsidies — the second-highest subsidy amount among the 202 schools analyzed. Utah State University got 64 percent of its athletics budget from subsidies; Weber State University got 65 percent from subsidies; but the University of Utah got only 24 percent of its athletic funding from subsidies. Information on Brigham Young University, a private school, was not made available.

The picture of uneven subsidies in Utah was reflected around the nation. UCLA and other University of California athletics programs got 16 percent of their athletic budget from subsidies, but California State-Fullerton got 71 percent. The University of Alabama's athletics program got 4 percent of its revenues from subsidies, while Alabama State University athletics required a subsidy of 76 percent.

Eyes on the ball

The findings of the report did not surprise members of the Knight Commission, a panel from academic, athletic and journalism communities aimed at ensuring that intercollegiate sports programs uphold the educational missions of their colleges and universities.

Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, said they have been tracking data on funding disparities between college athletics and academics for several years and have called for greater financial transparency in reporting the real cost of athletics programs, making academic values a priority, and treating college athletes as students first — not as professionals.

"Elite market leaders are generating record sums of money and putting those resources into coach's salaries, new facilities and other aspects of athletic enterprise," Perko said. "Schools that are unable to generate those huge sums keep increasing their reliance on institutional budgets. That has been the pattern over time, and there is no reason to believe that will stop unless there are changes in regulatory structure, or the model itself."

The Knight Commission was formed in 1989 in response to several public scandals in college sports during the 1980s. It has no binding authority over universities or their athletics programs, but its recommendations have influenced changes within the NCAA, such as rules requiring stronger academic standards for athletes and increased accountability for sports programs.

Though no itinerary has been outlined yet, the Knight Commission is promoting the concept of using a percentage of tournament revenues to provide financial incentives to schools that maintain an appropriate balance between athletic and academic spending, Perko said. Without such policy changes, credibility of college athletic programs — and higher education itself — is at stake, she added.

The current scenario — flat-lined academic spending and rampant spending for athletics at colleges and universities — is "a pattern that's not sustainable," Perko said, "nor is it appropriate when their core mission is education."

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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