Knight Commission Unveils New College Sports Financial Database

For Release:  March 7, 2019

Revamped data tool provides innovative look at how NCAA Division I institutions make and spend money in college sports

Washington, D.C. — In an effort to inject more financial transparency into college sports, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has unveiled a revamped and innovative College Athletics Financial Information (CAFI) Database. The new resource provides unprecedented access to athletics revenues, expenses, and debt as well as institution-wide academic spending for more than 220 public NCAA Division I colleges and universities dating back to 2005.

The free, open-access database provides telling documentation of major college sports finances, at a time when institutions face lawsuits to direct more financial benefits to student-athletes. For the first time, database users are able to view rich graphics that demonstrate, by institution, conference or competitive subdivision, “Where the Money Comes From” and “Where the Money Goes” in college sports.

The CAFI database shows that Division I schools with big-time football programs are spending staggering sums on coaches’ salaries, athletics support staff, and facilities. For example, in 2017, Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) public institutions spent more than $1.1 billion in athletics scholarships. But that same year, scholarship spending was less than a quarter of what these institutions spent cumulatively on facilities and equipment ($1.75 billion), coaches’ compensation ($1.43 billion), and athletics support staff and administrative compensation ($1.4 billion). Despite their lucrative revenues, FBS public institutions were carrying more than $9 billion in total athletics debt combined in 2017.

“This database helps flesh out the good and the bad in major college sports finances so we can have an informed debate about priorities,” said Commission co-chair Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education. “At a time when all of U.S. higher education is appropriately under pressure to be more transparent to the public and more accountable for producing better outcomes, intercollegiate athletics must be held to the same standards and scrutiny.”

“The Knight Commission has long championed student-athletes’ education and their health and safety as college sports’ two most important priorities,” said Knight Commission co-chair Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State University and Bowling Green State University. “We are concerned that the data reveal disproportionate spending on coaching salaries and facility enhancements that are creating troubling and unsustainable long-term financial pressures.”

CAFI database users can crunch numbers in countless ways – offering both a comprehensive overview as well as detailed snapshots of finances at the school, conference, and subdivision level. Users can also create their own “peer groups” to analyze the data such as a grouping of conference-switching institutions or all Division I athletics programs in the same state university system.

The CAFI database gives users the opportunity to review academic spending as well, letting them make comparisons between the pace of growth in academic spending and athletics spending. One example: Between 2012 and 2017, median football spending at public FBS institutions grew nearly three times as fast as median academic spending (20 percent to 8 percent, adjusted for inflation).

The database graphics clearly illustrate how much a particular school or university spends on specific areas like coaches’ salaries, administrative salaries, facilities and equipment, recruiting, and medical expenses. Additionally, the financial tool breaks out funding from specific revenue sources like NCAA and conference television and media agreements, ticket sales, corporate sponsorship, advertising, licensing, and student fees.

The CAFI database uses information self-reported, by institutions, from NCAA financial reports and reports required by the federal government (U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, IPEDS).


About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics
The Knight Commission was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 to promote reforms that support and strengthen the educational mission of college sports. Over the years, the NCAA has adopted a number of the Commission’s recommendations, including the rule that requires teams to be on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their players to be eligible for postseason competition. The Commission’s College Athletics Financial Information (CAFI) database ( provides financial data for more than 220 public Division I institutions, creating greater transparency for college sports finances.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit