About the Spending Database

The Commission believes that the effective oversight of spending and revenue trends in sports across all NCAA Division I institutions requires the availability of clear, comparable, and complete data. Sustaining intercollegiate athletics also requires strategies to improve accountability.

In its 2010 report, Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics called for greater transparency of athletics finances by NCAA Division I institutions, including better measures to compare trends in athletic and academic spending.

The Commission is publishing this spending database to advance transparency for athletic and education-related spending that is controlled by each Division I institution.  This effort highlights two key principles — transparency and financial integrity — promoted in the Commission’s 1991, 2001, and 2010 reports.

At a time when all of U.S. higher education is under unprecedented pressure to be more transparent to the public and more accountable for the results it achieves, intercollegiate athletics cannot expect to be immune to the same standards.

By displaying the academic and athletic spending levels for comparisons, the Knight Commission is not making the case that the per capita spending should be equal.  There are legitimate reasons that spending per athlete may be greater than education-related spending on a per-student basis.  That said, there is concern about the unbalanced spending levels and patterns seen at some universities.  On the whole, the most troubling pattern is the continued rapid rise of athletic and football spending at a time of stagnant growth in academic spending.

In addition to promoting strategies to improve accountability, the Knight Commission has published data to help university and college sports administrators, faculty, students, media and the public better understand college sports finances, including “Where the Money Goes” and “Where the Money Comes From”.

“Where The Money Goes”

Distribution of Athletic Expenditures for Division I Public Institutions, 2014

Distribution of Athletic Expenditures for Division I Institutions, 2014

This graph shows the major operating expenses for each Division I Subdivision and each Spending Quartile in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). "Guarantees" are payments to visiting institutions for participation in home games. The “Other expenses” category includes medical, marketing, dues, spirit groups, sports camps, and other expenses. "Transfers back to the institution" are net positive revenues transferred from athletics back to the institution's general fund to be used for non-athletics purposes.

The data are based on 106 public institutions classified in the Football Bowl Subdivision; 78 public institutions in the Football Championship Subdivision and 47 public institutions in Division I that do not sponsor football.

Data Source: USA TODAY’s NCAA Athletics Finance Database.

Source: Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, 2016.

“Where the Money Comes From”

Sources of Athletic Budget Revenue for Division I Public Institutions, 2014

Sources of Athletic Budget Revenue for Division I Institutions, 2014

This graph shows the major operating revenues for each Division I Subdivision and each Spending Quartile in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). "Guarantees" are revenues received for participation in away games. The "other revenue" category includes concessions, endowments, sports camps, third party compensation, and other revenue.

The data are based on 106 public institutions classified in the Football Bowl Subdivision; 78 public institutions in the Football Championship Subdivision and 47 public institutions in Division I that do not sponsor football.

Data Source: USA TODAY’s NCAA Athletics Finance Database.

Source: Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, 2016.

Back to top of page ↑

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989 in response to more than a decade of highly visible scandals in college sports. The Commission’s initial goal was to recommend a reform agenda that emphasized academic values in an arena where commercialization of college sports often overshadowed the underlying goals of higher education. Since 1989, the Knight Commission’s efforts have promoted policies and practices to better ensure that intercollegiate athletics programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities.

Back to top of page ↑

About the Data and Methodology

This spending database uses the “spending per athlete” and “spending per student” metrics to account for the differences in student enrollment as well as the size of an athletics program. In Division I, there are athletic programs that offer as few as 14 varsity sports, and programs that offer more than 30 varsity sports — creating vast differences in the number of varsity athletes. There are also significant differences in the number of full-time students enrolled at these universities — ranging from 1,500 to more than 60,000. Providing the metrics on a per capita basis allows a better “apples-to-apples” comparison of spending among institutions of different size athletic departments and student enrollments.

Additionally, it is more useful to consider per capita data when tracking rates of change in academic and athletic spending over time at one specific university. For example, a per student spending metric can measure whether academic spending increases along with increases in student enrollment. In athletics, an increase in sports spending to add a varsity sports team may not result in any increase in per athlete spending due to an increase in the number of participants.

Aggregate spending and headcount data can be accessed using the “download data” tool in custom reporting.

For information about the data, methodology, definitions, and sources, go to About the Data.

Back to top of page ↑