College spending on athletics is growing far more quickly than spending on academics, according to a new report from the American Association of College Professors. And perhaps the most surprising finding is that this isn’t just a problem at the big, Division I schools; spending has been growing even more quickly at Division II and III schools over the past decade. Between 2004 and 2012, Division III schools without football programs saw per-athlete spending on athletics double. Community colleges have increased spending on athletics even as they cut back on inflation-adjusted spending on academics.Critics note that a report on excessive athletic spending by a group representing college professors, who would likely want to get some of that money themselves, is somewhat self-serving. Perhaps, but it still points to a serious problem: At a time when colleges need to spend their money wisely, it’s hard to make a case that more athletic spending is prudent.While big schools with strong team sports use their athletic programs to develop brand loyalty and bring in alumni donations, this is a factor of far less importance at the Division III schools where the spending increases are highest. The NYT reports:
“We all see college football, we know the shiny helmets at the University of Tennessee. We know March madness, but we don’t see Division III games, or the community colleges,” said Ms. Thornton, an economics professor and coach of men’s rugby at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Even colleges without powerhouse sports programs, she said, are racing to build their athletic programs as a recruitment tool.
“My hypothesis, and it’s not yet fully proven, is that these are mostly schools that are very tuition-dependent, and they’re spending more on sports to recruit more students,” Ms. Thornton said. “But I think it’s ludicrous.”
We tend to agree. While we don’t believe schools should eliminate all athletics, it seems like a bad idea to divert resources into expensive programs at a time when the average debt burden for graduates is so heavy. Especially as students become more price conscious, the schools that deliver a quality education at the cheapest price will be best positioned to succeed; athletic spending raises costs without doing much for education quality.This doesn’t mean that all of the added spending going to athletics should instead go to academics, as the American Association of College Professors probably hopes. While some colleges may need to spend more on their faculties, others ought to consider using this money to lower tuition instead.