Athletics at UND, NDSU subsidized heavily by schools, studentsNorth Dakota’s two largest universities and their students spend millions of dollars each year to subsidize athletics, according to data gathered by USA Today on more than 200 Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association programs.
By: Kyle Potter, Forum News Service
North Dakota’s two largest universities and their students spend millions of dollars each year to subsidize athletics, according to data gathered by USA Today on more than 200 Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association programs.
At UND, where hockey is king, students pay $3.3 million – or $218 each – to help fund the school’s athletic program, while the university kicks in $5.9 million.
The student subsidy is three times the amount paid by North Dakota State University students, who pay $73.50 on average for a mandatory student fee earmarked for athletics.
Despite consecutive national football championships and surging ticket sales, the Bison received $6.2 million from the school to help balance its budget last year.
All told, 47 percent of UND athletic revenues in 2012 came through subsidies, according to USA Today data. At NDSU, that was 43 percent.
But as collegiate athletics’ budgets have ballooned across the nation, the portion of the tab two universities pick up to pay for college sports isn’t just the norm. They’re some of the most self-sufficient programs among their peers.
The 74 other programs like UND and NDSU – Division I schools with teams in the smaller Football Championship Subdivision – that reported information to USA Today received nearly 70 percent of their revenues from their school and students, on average. Only four schools relied less on subsidies than NDSU. UND was just behind, at No. 7.
“There is no FCS program that’s self-supporting, and my guess will ever be self-supporting. It’s just not the model that FCS will be able to withstand,” said Kyle Moats, the athletic director at Missouri State University.
Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, said competition between schools has accelerated athletics spending, especially on coach salaries, personnel and facilities.
“The growing emphasis on winning and increasing TV market share feeds a spending escalation,” she said.
And that spending has helped feed an increasing reliance on subsidies nationwide, Perko said.
Officials from both NDSU and UND said they go into each year with a game plan for how much financial support they’ll need. Neither school simply cuts a check at the end of the year to cover all the losses.
At UND, Vice President for Finance and Administration Alice Brekke said the school’s contribution to athletics – $5.9 million last year – comes from two primary sources: roughly 60 percent from a pool of money built by interest income and leasing land, and another 35 percent or so from tuition dollars and appropriations from the state.
Brekke said it hasn’t been a concern or priority to reduce UND athletics’ reliance on institutional and student support. Rather, she said there’s been talk year after year about what level of additional financial support – which she called a reality and necessity – is appropriate.
For the past two years, Gene Taylor, athletic director at NDSU, said Bison athletics has pulled in more revenue than anticipated, cutting the size of the checks the school had to write by almost $1 million.
The school’s funds for athletics come from a mix of tuition, taxpayer dollars allocated by the Legislature and special auxiliary funds.
About 23 percent of NDSU’s transfers to athletics come from tuition and state appropriations. The remainder is paid by auxiliary funds.
After receiving millions in subsidies last year, both NDSU and UND’s athletics programs ran a deficit: NDSU lost about $6,000, according to the USA Today data, while UND’s deficit was nearly $700,000.
Seven programs at public universities received no subsidies in 2012. They’re the marquee programs with big football and basketball teams and lucrative TV contracts, like the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oklahoma Sooners.
At the top: The Texas Longhorns, whose $163.3 million in athletics revenues last year was more than eight times the size of UND’s take.
Perko said the Knight Commission has never pushed athletics programs to become self-sufficient. She said the commission believes “athletics has an appropriate role in university life,” and one that may require a certain level of financial support from schools and their students.
Instead, their primary focus is on how universities’ athletics spending on each athlete has outpaced academic spending per student.
By that measurement, FCS schools such as UND and NDSU have done far better than larger programs, research compiled by the Knight Commission shows.
Schools with FCS football teams spent 3.1 times more per athlete than they spent per student, the Knight Commission analysis of 2010 median expenditures found. Compare that to schools with bowl teams, where teams spent 6.7 times more on athletes than on students.
But the Knight Commission does keep an eye on how those subsidies have grown along with overall spending. Perko said they noticed small declines in subsidization in the last couple of years.
At NDSU, the size of transfers from the school and student fees to athletics both fell between 2011 and 2012. Those subsidies increased slightly at UND.
“Time will tell to see if that type of moderation will hold true,” Perko said.
“Athletics couldn’t be here without the university, but the university couldn’t be here without athletics.”
That’s in the back of NDSU student body president Robbie Lauf’s mind as he considers how much NDSU students kick in to support athletics. Athletics received $1.1 million – about 6 percent of its total revenue – in fees from roughly 14,400 students.
Each year, NDSU’s student government doles out student fees, which are charged on a per-credit basis. Bison athletics get a big chunk of the student activity fee, which capped at about $131 per semester for full-time students last school year.
Lauf said he thinks NDSU students are happy to put their money toward athletics – about $73.50 each last year, on average. That buys each student entry into every Bison game – except football, for which students fight to quickly claim the roughly 4,000 available free tickets on Mondays before each home game.
“You definitely can’t get a season ticket at the dome for that,” Lauf said.
NDSU students’ share of the athletics budget has steadily decreased since 2005. It’s been the reverse at UND, due primarily to the school’s more recent jump to Division I athletics.
The average contribution through student fees at UND jumped from about $53.50 per student in 2005 to $218.25 each last year, according to an analysis of the USA Today data. Like at NDSU, UND students get free tickets for sporting events. But tickets to the most popular sport at UND, men’s hockey, are only available at a discount, not first-come, first-served.
Brekke, UND’s finance executive, said student government officials signed off on those fee increases as school officials laid the groundwork to move up in collegiate athletics. After a five-year transition period, UND’s jump to Division I became official last summer.