USA Today today posted an exhaustive database of athletic "subsidies" for every NCAA Division I school--i.e., how much does each university itself (via student fees, public funding, or any other addition to the institutional budget) pay for its athletic department out of its own metaphorical pocket?
For most BCS conference schools (partciularly those in the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12), their athletic departments are nearly self-sufficient, with 20 percent or less of their budgets coming from direct university funding. But that's not the case everywhere, and especially not at Rutgers, which USA Today found has offered its athletic department some $115 million in subsidies the past five years. That number is nearly double the figure at any other BCS school, and comes in the face of a state budget crisis that has forced the school to withhold $30 million worth of scheduled raises for faculty and staff.
So, to briefly recap: Rutgers forks over some $23 million a year to its athletic department (nearly $27 million in 2010), then tells its professors it can't afford to give them money it had already promised them. This is going over every bit as well as you might imagine:
"A student doesn't come to Rutgers to attend a football game. They come here to get an education — and then maybe attend a football game," says Patrick Nowlan,executive director of the Rutgers teachers' union.Relations between faculty and athletics at BCS schools aren't always friendly even in the best of times, and now that the country's economic troubles are hitting the former harder than the latter, it's no surprise Rutgers is far from alone in seeing its faculty publicly angered by the money spent on sports. But what, in practical terms, does this -- and the situations like it across the country -- mean for college football?
"From our perspective, the core mission of the university is to teach, do research and then provide service to the public of the state of New Jersey, and ancillary enterprises such as athletics should not be the top priorities. They should not be priorities when you, as a university administration, are arguing that you don't have resources, you don't have enough funding from the state."
Our honest guess is: not a heck of a lot. As long as the sport exists in its current arms-race state, big-time college football is an all-or-nothing proposition; you simply can't compete -- even in the Big East, as Rutgers has discovered -- without a complete commitment to the sport. The faculty have a perfectly legitimate gripe, but unless something fundamental about college football's finances changes, it'll be something of a shock if they amount to anything more than a few saved nickels here and there.
Of course that "something fundamental" might be happening right now in the form of full cost of attendance scholarships. (For more on this from John Calipari, see our last post.) This is where the issue of subsidies could really rear its ugly head--while it's one thing to pay for player stipends with athletic money and supersized TV contracts (a windfall Rutgers seems to be counting on to solve its current issues), it's another to pay for them out of the pockets of the very teachers who will be instructing the players in question. And that goes double once you leave the cozy confines of the BCS conferences; according to the USA Today database, the top 50 schools in terms of lowest 2010 percentages of budget subsidies were BCS schools. (Fresno State was the top non-AQ school, with "only" 28 percent of its athletic funding subsidized.)
So if the full cost of attendance bandwagon continues to pick up steam, yes, you can expect the athletics-vs.-academics funding battle to really pick up steam, particularly at schools like Rutgers or USF that have BCS memberships and still find themselves heavily subsidized. But until then? As ugly as the numbers in places like Piscataway might be, it'll be pretty much business as suual.