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Tracking Sports Spending

May 15, 2007

As the National Collegiate Athletic Association and National Association of College and University Business Officers continue their joint effort to employ a new accounting system in the hopes of revealing more accurate and comprehensive data on what colleges spend on sports programs, officials from both organizations took Monday's appearance before the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics as a chance to show some of the new metrics in action.

Colleges have long reported information about athletics spending without a common set of definitions, making it difficult to compare data and surmise financial trends.

“When we had the data, all of us thought it wasn’t as consistent or as broad as we’d like it to be,” said Todd Petr, the NCAA's managing director of research.

The association announced last year that the new budgeting method would account for items such as capital expenditures and the direct and indirect institutional support athletics departments receive, including third-party gifts.

The NCAA and NACUBO continue to hammer out what they call "dashboard indicators" -- likely to include categories such as athletics expenses and total athletics revenue as percentages of overall university expenses and revenue -- that will allow college presidents and trustees for the first time to see how they compare to their peers. The NCAA plans to report the new information to the public, though only in the aggregate, without individual institutions’ names attached.

On Monday, at a meeting of the Knight panel, which promotes sports reform, NCAA officials offered a first look at their biennial report on Division I revenues and expenditures, the 2004-5 version of which begins to incorporate some aspects of the new approach. For the first time, for instance, the report differentiates openly between "generated revenues" -- funds that athletics departments produce themselves, such as ticket sales and booster contributions -- and "allocated revenues," which are the various institutional subsidies and state funds (like tuition waivers) that sports programs receive.

The NCAA report finds that programs in the NCAA's top competitive level, Division I-A (the so-called "football bowl subdivision"), reported an average net revenue of just over $1 million in 2004-5. The Division I-AA (the "football championship division") average was $40,000, and Division I-AAA (colleges that compete in basketball but not in football) saw an average loss of $115,000. But when looking just at generated revenue, only 22 Division I-A programs, fewer than one in five, operated in the black. And not a single Division I-AA or I-AAA program came out on top in that category. (Petr said the data is an example of what the NCAA is looking to collect, but that one year of figures shouldn't be taken out of context.)

Ticket sales (25 percent) and alumni contributions (20 percent) make up the greatest revenue source in I-A, while direct institutional support (nearly 50 percent) greatly surpassed any other source for the other two subdivisions. Salaries made up nearly a third of expenses for all three.

Because of changes in metrics, the NCAA points out that data from the 2004 and 2005 fiscal years are not comparable to prior data. The fiscal 2006 data is scheduled to come out later this summer and will be reported as a three-year aggregate.

Members of the Knight Commission said they looked forward to seeing the broader comparative data assembled by the NCAA and NACUBO. But some expressed concern that inconsistency in reporting methods and definitions will still plague the process. For instance, colleges attribute the expense of athletics scholarships in different ways, which could change the meaning of the numbers depending upon institutional practice. Michael F. Adams, a commissioner who is president of the University of Georgia, said that when the comparative numbers are released, "it is going to be with a lot of asterisks."

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” said John Walda, president and chief executive of NACUBO.

Added Peter Likins, president emeritus of the University of Arizona and former chair of the NCAA Presidential Task Force on the Division of Division I Intercollegiate Athletics, who led that group's fiscal responsibility subcommittee: “We can create good measures of accounting and reporting. Whether or not an athletics department will use the data to make changes is the real question."

Also on Monday, the commission heard from the NCAA on Academic Progress Rate data that it released two weeks ago. The panel voted to support an action taken by the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors to require, among other things, that college baseball players show they are academically eligible at the start of the fall term in order to compete during fall and spring semesters. Officials are targeting baseball because of consistently low APR numbers and evidence of frequent player transfers. They found that players were taking very light spring and summer course loads and then loading up in the fall, which was hurting the term-by-term progress rate. The changes would mostly go into effect in August 2008 unless there is a motion for an override -- a vote by the individual college members to consider overturning the board's decision.

 

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