According to an article in USA Today, it turns out many colleges spend a lot more money training college athletes they do educating them. As Mary Beth Marklein explains:

Public universities competing in NCAA Division I sports spend as much as six times more per athlete than they spend to educate students, and likely for the first time per-athlete spending at schools in each of the six highest-profile football conferences topped $100,000 in 2010….

Between 2005 and 2010, spending by athletic departments rose more than twice as fast as academic spending on a per-student basis.

It’s no surprise that sports themselves cost more than academia. The only annual cost of educating students is the staff you employ to teach them. Sports require spending on a whole bunch of other things, including gear, facilities, and medical care, all of which really add up over time.

Still, it’s hard to understand why institutions of higher learning spend so much more than they used to on athletics. At 97 public institutions that compete in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision, average athlete spending increased 51 percent in the last five years, to $92,000. Spending on actual education, however, went up only 23 percent, to $14,000.

Why the increased cost? Well at least in part it has to do with perception of the school. In the last 30 years it appears colleges have come to believe that big athletic programs can increase the influence and prestige of the school. As I wrote back in 2010:

The point of funding a large athletic program can be traced to the Flutie Effect. In 1984 Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie’s successful Hail Mary pass resulted in his school’s dramatic win over the University of Miami. In the next admissions cycle, the number and quality of applicants to BC improved spectacularly. Applications to the school increased by 16 percent in 1984 and then by 12 percent in 1985.

But does it really work? While it’s true that a truly superb athletic program might boost an individual school’s rank from one year to the next, in the aggregate if everyone spends a lot more on athletic programs, there’s no improvement in education at these schools. Because most schools significantly subsidize athletic programs, more funding for sports just increases the cost of college. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer