Editorial: Colleges wrongfully spend more on athletics than academics

The American Association of University Professors released a report Monday that outlines a concerning trend: Most colleges and universities across the nation are rapidly increasing their spending on athletics, while their spending on academics remains flat or is even declining.

What’s most counterintuitive is that this escalating spending phenomena is continuing even though only 23 university members of the NCAA were reported to have athletic programs that ran a surplus in 2012. Meanwhile, other schools have been making positive returns through other means — namely, from research grants. In the 2010 fiscal year, Pitt earned about $150 million in surplus from research activities. Yet, by parity of reasoning, Pitt was not one of the 23 schools listed that ran a surplus on athletics, even though four of Pitt’s top five highest paid employees had some relation to the institution’s athletics program.

So why do schools such as Pitt continue to increase expenses on something that is not generating a return on their investment?

A primary argument in support of increasing spending on athletics notes that big and successful athletic programs make for great publicity and, in turn, might recruit more students. For instance, paying a big-name coach like Jamie Dixon about $2.4 million a year — marking him as the highest paid employee at Pitt — makes the basketball program attractive for recruits and fans alike. But what about the components of a institution that consistently generate positive returns? Why aren’t they receiving proportionate financial investments from schools?

The primary moneymakers for schools such as Pitt are found in research-based programs. Pitt, in the 2010 fiscal year alone,  made $831.9 million in grants and contracts related to research. And the research faculty, professors and students who actually bring in this cash aren’t seeing much of it back. All the while, big-time athletic coaches receive raises for running programs that don’t bring a surplus back to their respective institutions.

This is completely inequitable for the professors and students who actually generate money for the institution. In essence, pumping capital into nonprofitable athletic programs is not only unfair, but also irrational. It seems largely unwarranted to continue to put money into a program that might increase cultural and societal appeal but doesn’t proportionally advance what an institution stands for to begin with. Expunging the funding of athletic programs outright is not necessary, but the increased allocation of resources to such programs is sending the wrong message of what an institution’s primary goals are.

These programs are being funded egregiously, and if schools plan to continue this in hopes of potentially increasing public exposure, they should consider proportionately spending as much on academic programs as they do on athletics.