Why does the Knight Commission database show spending on a per student and per athlete basis instead of total spending?

This spending database uses 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.

Is there a way to access the total spending data instead of the per capita data?

Yes, the custom reporting tool will allow users to download the raw data.

Is there a way to analyze the impact of scholarships cost increases in overall trends?

Yes, the Custom Reporting feature allows users to compare total athletic spending to athletic spending without scholarships for institutions, FBS conferences, or other groups. A similar comparison can be made with just football spending and football spending without scholarships. The report will show the percent change for these metrics over the period of time selected by the user.

Why does the Academic Spending measure reflect "Education and Related" spending (e.g. the “full cost of education”) instead of other institutional spending measures?

The Education and Related spending metric provides the most comparable data across all Division I institutions to assess trends in institutional spending related to the academic mission. The Education and Related metric includes all education-related spending (see About the Data for a complete definition). It does not include direct and indirect spending on public service activities or grant-funded research, which is highly variable across different types of institutions (e.g., research universities vs. comprehensive institutions) and linked to the availability of restricted grant funding. This spending (and its associated overhead costs) is included in the Education and General spending metric, not used in this database. Total institutional spending, also not used in this database, may include spending on hospitals, auxiliaries (such as bookstores, dining halls, and student housing), and independent operations.

Where does the data used in the Knight Commission’s athletic and academic spending database come from?

All of the data in the database are self-reported by institutions.

The academic spending estimates come from a special tabulation of the Delta Cost Project Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) Database, which was constructed from publicly available data that higher education institutions are required to report to the U.S. Department of Education through annual IPEDS surveys.

The athletic spending data were taken from NCAA financial reports filed by each institution with the NCAA and collected by USA TODAY through annual public record requests. For most schools in the database, athletic participation counts were drawn from data filed by each institution with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education Equity in Athletics database. For the U.S. Military Academy and U.S. Air Force Academy, athletic participation counts were obtained from USA TODAY per each institution’s NCAA Financial Reports.

Why can’t I find all Division I institutions in the database?

Data are included only for the NCAA Division I public institutions that provided athletic data in response to USA TODAY’s public records requests. Private institutions are exempt from disclosure requests as are several public institutions in the state of Pennsylvania.

Are the data adjusted for inflation?

Data shown on the profile pages are shown in current dollars and are not adjusted for inflation. However, data can be adjusted for inflation by checking the box "Adjust for Cost Inflation" on each web page. Data can also be adjusted for inflation using the custom reporting tool. Inflation adjustments use the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Why is CPI used to adjust for inflation?

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is the most widely used measure of inflation and is sometimes viewed as an indicator of the effectiveness of government economic policy. It provides information about price changes in the nation's economy to government, business, labor, and private citizens and is used by them as a guide to making economic decisions. In addition, the President, Congress, and the Federal Reserve Board use trends in the CPI to aid in formulating fiscal and monetary policies.

More specifically, “the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers for a market basket of consumer goods and services.” The CPI represents all goods and services purchased for consumption and classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for all expenditure items into more than 200 categories, including education and communication (e.g. college tuition, postage, telephone services, computer software and accessories).

Why are more recent data not available? Will the data be updated?

Academic spending data used in this database are not reported to the U.S. Department of Education until one year following the current fiscal year (which ends July 31). Thus, there is a two-year delay in publishing the academic spending data used for this database. The most recent reporting year of athletic spending data are not published until the academic spending data are also available.

Where can I find definitions for the metrics and other terms as well as the methodology?

Go to About the Data for all data definitions and methodology.

What is 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 on Intercollegiate Athletics has worked to ensure that intercollegiate athletics programs operate within the educational mission of their colleges and universities. Visit www.knightcommission.org to learn more about the Commission’s recommendations and the measures that have been adopted by the NCAA, conferences and institutions.

How were projections determined?

Projections are available for all metrics in athletic and football spending for Division I subdivisions, FBS conferences and FBS spending quartiles only. Institutional spending projections are not provided since projections are generally more reliable with aggregated amounts.

The projections for spending in 2020 are based on the growth of spending using the median for each relevant metric within each group during the most recent five year-period for the data in this database. To pick up any trends within the period and to be conservative, the projection formula takes the average of five numbers: the annual percent change during each of the following periods for the data in this database (1) the most recent five years, (2) the most recent four years, (3) the most recent three years, (4) the most recent two years, and (5) the most recent year. The average of these five annual percent changes is then applied to project the level of spending in 2020.

This approach gives progressively more weight to the more recent years.

When CPI is applied to projections to adjust for cost inflation, the CPI formula replicates the projections formula to generate a multiplier that is the average of the five most recent annual CPI percent changes. This calculation is a deflator, which is applied to the 2020 projections.

Why are projections not provided for institutional spending?

Institutional spending projections are not provided since projections are generally more reliable with aggregated amounts.

What are the FBS spending quartiles?

Spending quartiles are created by dividing the FBS subdivision into four sections (quartiles) based on the size of the institution’s expense budget in each year of the database. Quartile 1 schools have the largest athletics expense budget in a given year and Quartile 4 schools have the smallest athletics expense budget in a given year.

Why is there a limit on the number of comparisons for graphs in the custom reporting section?

The display parameters limit graphs to no more than 30 variables each. However, more than 30 variables can be downloaded as raw data in a spreadsheet. 

Why does the database use medians instead of averages for conference and division profiles?

The NCAA began using medians instead of averages beginning with its 2008 financial report, which tracks spending within Division I subdivisions. The NCAA made this change as a result of the "impact that unusually large (outlier) revenue items, primarily alumni and booster contributions, have had on average amounts." NCAA financial reports also note that "for comparative purposes, median statistics are more meaningful than are averages." This database uses medians for comparative purposes for the same reasons.

How do institutions that change conferences or subdivisions impact the conference and subdivision median calculations?

Data are calculated based on each institution’s conference or subdivision affiliation in each specific reporting year. Even though each institutional profile page notes each institution’s conference affiliation for the most recent fiscal year in the database, that institution may be included in a calculation for another conference in which it was affiliated in an earlier reporting year. Conference and subdivision profiles note the affiliation based upon the most recent fiscal year reported in the database. Note: Data are not provided for any year that an institution was classified in NCAA Division II.

Why don't the conference listings reflect the current institutional members?

An institution is shown on the conference profile page for the conference in which it is a member during the most recent fiscal year included in the database. However, institutional data are calculated in the FBS conference or Division I subdivision in which the institution was affiliated for that specific reporting year. Users can run a custom report to group new conference schools with its current conference.

Why are data before 2005 not included?

The NCAA made substantial changes in data collection and reporting beginning with the 2004 fiscal year. Thus, any comparisons with data prior to 2004 are not meaningful. This database uses data collected by USA TODAY, which includes data only beginning with the 2005 fiscal year.

Why are some data missing?

A missing or broken line in a graph represents missing data or data not included.  In the tables, missing data or data not included are represented by a dash (-).  Data were not included for reporting years in which an institution may have been in Division II or in a Division I transition period. In  football spending, there are reporting years during which some institutions did not offer football. In other cases, missing data were not provided on the institution’s financial report.

I noticed a possible error in the data. How can it be corrected?

If you believe there is an error in the data your institution submitted in the cited public reports, please contact us.

How does the database consider positive net revenues that an athletic department may provide back to the institution’s general fund?

Beginning in the 2011 reporting year (2010-2011), the NCAA financial report provided more specific instruction to institutions about reporting funds the athletic department directed back to the university. These funds are separated from the operating expenses and are not considered in athletic spending totals in this database.

Why are there significant changes in some of the growth rates from year to year?

Some institutions interpret the NCAA financial reporting rules slightly differently despite efforts by the NCAA staff working with the National Association of College and University Business Officers to standardize the definitions and reporting.  For some institutions, significant changes in spending trends may represent a change in reporting rather than actual spending. In other cases, significant changes from one year to the next may represent actual spending patterns impacted by a variety of factors, like the start of a new academic program at the university (academic spending) or an addition of a new sport like football (athletics spending).

Why aren’t athletics revenues reported on in the database?

This database was created to create greater transparency of college athletics spending in the context of academic spending at universities. All athletics revenues are ultimately under the direct control of the university to allocate to university activities, which could include athletics.

Data on athletics revenues can be accessed at:


Some athletics departments believe that the tuition and fees paid by athletes who do not receive full scholarships are an important benefit of their athletics programs. The NCAA does not currently track the amount of tuition and fees paid by students participating in athletics.

How should data from the database be cited?

Knight Commission Athletic & Academic Spending Database for NCAA Division I. (2017). Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics. www.knightcommission.org. Athletics Data Source: USA TODAY's NCAA Athletics Finance Database.