In November 2015, Huffington Post had an article, Sports At Any Cost, about the ridiculous amounts some colleges are spending on intercollegiate athletics:
A river of cash is flowing into college sports, financing a spending spree among elite universities that has sent coaches’ salaries soaring and spurred new discussions about whether athletes should be paid. But most of that revenue is going to a handful of elite sports programs, leaving colleges like Georgia State to rely heavily on students to finance their athletic ambitions.
They included a list of some of the most outrageous subsidies in collegiate sports, where the college is pouring millions of dollars into propping up their semi-pro athletic departments—money extorted from the students (student fees) or diverted from educational purposes (“institutional support”). Note: these figures aren’t for intramurals or recreational facilities used by all students—just for the team athletics.
Some of the worst offenders are state schools. For example, University of California, Riverside comes 7th on their list, with 87% of the athletics budget being subsidized ($67 million out of $76 million for a 4-year period), with 32% of that being student fees and 68% being institutional support. This comes to each student paying (through fees and diverted general funds) about $3656 over four years to support the UCR athletic teams.
The measure they sorted on (percentage of the athletics budget that is subsidized) is not the right one—what matters more is the subsidy per student. If the athletics budget is tiny, it doesn’t matter if it is 100% subsidized, just as other entertainments on campus are subsidized at low levels. What matters is the subsidy per student, by which measure UC Davis is doing even worse than UCR with a subsidy of $114million out of $144million (79%), or $4411 per student. Other UCs on the list include UCSB ($3171/student), UCB ($1852), and UCI ($2694).
UCSC doesn’t make the list, because we have no Division I teams. There has been some institutional subsidy of our Division III athletics (I estimate under $100/student), but that was a one-time administrative grant to give the athletics department a chance to convince the students to assess themselves a fee to support the teams. So far the students have wisely resisted this, though they have been supportive of fee measures that support all students (not just elite athletes). The fee that the athletics department tried to get passed was $117/quarter, which would be a subsidy of $1404 over 4 years—less that many of the other UCs but still far more than the entertainment value of the sports teams. I suspect that if the Office of Physical Education, Recreation, and Sports had floated a fee measure to increase the intramural program, buy more recreational sports equipment, or fund more surfing and scuba classes, the students would have passed it—it isn’t an aversion to the activities, but to the subsidy of a few “elite athletes” that is anathema to UCSC students.
I’m hopeful that UCSC will exit Division I this year, returning to having only club sports (as they did when I first came to UCSC) and intramurals, in which all students can participate.
I have spent significant time on sports-mad campuses (I was an undergrad at Michigan State and a grad student at Stanford), and I’m convinced that UCSC has a much healthier attitude towards sports and exercise than those colleges. The value of sports in college is in the exercise and practice at cooperating in teams, which is best done by maximizing the participation (intramurals) rather than by subsidizing a small number of elite athletes as entertainers.