The Huffington Post & The Chronicle of Higher Education

HuffPost & The Chronicle

Reporter’s Note

Take Our College Sports Subsidy Data

SUNDAY, NOV. 15, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT

If you’ve tuned in to a college football game this fall, or read headlines about soaring coaching salaries, you might conclude that universities are making more money from sports than they know what to do with. The crowds are huge, the paychecks colossal.

But this view excludes the majority of universities that compete in Division I, the highest rung of college sports. At most colleges, athletics are a money-losing proposition that would not exist without billions of dollars in mandatory student contributions — a burden that grows greater every year, according to our review of five years of NCAA financial reports obtained through public records requests from 201 D-1 universities.

To crunch the data and tell the story of the growing divide between the have and have-not college programs, The Huffington Post teamed up with The Chronicle of Higher Education, which has covered the intersection of college sports and academia for many years. It was the first time our two news organizations have collaborated, and we are thrilled to tell this critically important story together.

This is not a story about jocks versus academics. College sports yield indelible moments that unite campuses and provide a path to a quality higher education for thousands of students who might otherwise not be able to afford it. Many of the people we interviewed, including legendary coach Bill Curry, have devoted their careers to college athletics — but worry that too many schools are spending too much in an effort to keep up in an arms race they can’t win.

We see this instead as a story about choices and priorities. Our reporting revealed that many schools are cutting academic programs and raising tuition, while at the same time funneling even more money into athletics. We found that schools that subsidize sports the most also tend to have the poorest students, who are often borrowing to pay for their educations.

One of our most concerning findings was that many of the students we spoke to aren’t aware that they are subsidizing the cost of sports on their campus. The vast majority of all college students have never been asked if they want to do so — a reflection of the power imbalance that exists between students and administrators, who set priorities and policies.

We are proud of our story, but believe there is so much more to tell. That’s why we are releasing our all the financial information we obtained over the past months. We encourage student and community journalists, and whoever else is interested, to take our data and tell their own stories about college sports subsidies, and the tradeoffs that colleges are making in order to further their athletic ambitions.

Download Data

We also urge universities to post the reports they must make to the NCAA in an easy-to-find location on their websites. Very few do so. This seems to us a necessary first step toward better communicating with students and parents about the true cost of supporting intercollegiate sports.

Ben Hallman and Shane Shifflett


The Huffington Post and Chronicle of Higher Education requested athletic revenue and expense reports from 234 public universities that compete in Division I. More than 350 schools compete at this level, but private institutions and some colleges in Pennsylvania are not subject to public records laws. While colleges submit this information to the National Collegiate Athletic Association — a nonprofit regulating athletics at more than 1,200 colleges — the reports are considered private.

HuffPost and The Chronicle made multiple efforts to obtain reports detailing athletics spending between 2010 and 2014 from all public institutions, but 33 did not respond by Oct. 15, 2015, the final date reports could be included in our analysis. Nine schools with incomplete data are noted in our Subsidy Scorecards.

Our analysis focused primarily on subsidies — how much a school effectively “donates” or invests in its athletics department to make up for a lack of earned revenue. Subsidies can come from three sources: student fees, funds allocated by the school and government support. Earned revenue includes any income generated through ticket sales, donations, endowments, royalties, and television and conference distributions, among other sources.

We grouped schools according to their 2013-2014 conference memberships and focused on revenues exclusive to that time. Some schools have teams competing in more than one conference. For those that do, we based their conference affiliation on the league in which their basketball team plays.

Preview feature

Sports At Any Cost

How College Students Are Bankrolling The Athletics Arms Race

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Subsidy Scorecards

How much does your college’s athletics department rely on student fees and other subsidies? Find out using our scorecards!

Preview datastory

The Subsidy Gap

The $10 Billion Divide Between Elite Sports Programs And All The Rest