Most Ohio Schools Depend on Student Fees, Other Public Help for Division I Intercollegiate Sports

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently reported on the financial status of college sports in the state of Ohio and found that college sports would be unsustainable in their current form at just about every public university in Ohio without money from students, taxpayers or other non-athletic school sources. With the exception of Ohio State University, ticket sales, TV revenue and souvenirs are unable to pay the expenses at every institution of higher education in Ohio.

Many of the institutions have turned to student fees to help pay the expenses for athletics.  But as students and parents face college bills increasing faster than inflation, and as the state’s share of the higher education costs have been shrinking, does this investment in sports make sense?

“Athletics play an important role, but it has to be kept in the context of the university’s core mission, which is education,” said Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. The commission, a watchdog of sorts for college sports, counts among its members several university presidents.

The Knight Commission on Oct. 24 will report that from 2005 to ’09, spending per athlete nationally at the 100-plus big-time programs increased 50 percent — more than double the increase per student on academics.

Outside of Ohio State, Ohio’s 10 public universities spent $128 million in student fees and other public support — nearly $700 for each student — to support intercollegiate athletics in 2009-10, The Plain Dealer found in a review of the latest financial filings to the NCAA.

At Ohio University, where the subsidy covered 82 percent of the athletic budget in 2009-10 — mostly through general student fees — the faculty senate took a formal stand last year. It passed a resolution calling the current funding “incompatible with the academic mission of higher education.”

Many university presidents are worried about funding sports, according to a survey of 95 presidents from colleges with major football programs. Nearly half said they were concerned about the portion of institutional resources being used on sports, and about the same number said they feared they would have to cut some sports, the Knight Commission reported last year.

Kent State President Lester Lefton believes intercollegiate sports are an important part of campus, but he said the spending trend cannot continue, especially when it comes to coaching salaries and facilities.

Lefton said Kent has tried to control costs by renovating facilities instead of building new. As for coaching salaries, Kent is on the low end of the MAC, though the salaries are increasing there as well.

Ohio University President Roderick McDavis told the paper he hopes to rely more on donations and ticket sales to cover the increasing costs. Yet, McDavis said intercollegiate sports are important. McDavis said the primary reasons students choose OU are for the academics, the campus beauty and because it has a Division I sports program.

McLaughlin, however, questions what is being spent on sports at a time when many senior faculty positions are being eliminated. “I don’t understand why the taxpayers, the legislators and the governor believe the state can subsidize as many Division I programs as Ohio has,” McLaughlin said.