Athletic aid?  Do universities really subsidize their athletic departments in these hard times, and can they really make those subsidies back?  Phil Miller at Environmental Economics provided a link to data on athletic department revenues and expenses for most D-1 schools.  It is an interesting dataset, especially at a time when ever-contracting budgets make subsidies for athletic departments less and less attractive.  At the same time, I am a former college athlete (track and field, one of those sports that costs a lot more than it will ever make) and I don’t want to see athletic departments tossed entirely.  I wonder if public disclosure of these costs in such an easily accessible form will do anything in terms of public awareness and attitudes in a tough economy.  My guess is that the answer will depend on the school in question.  I assure you that no matter what the figures, even Tea Party central (or as you might call it, the state of South Carolina) is going to just keep supporting the athletic departments of Clemson and the University of South Carolina (where, in full disclosure, I should note that I am currently employed).

A quick glance at the data suggests that The University of South Carolina’s athletic department does quite well year-to-year.  When you subtract revenues from expenses, you get a profits of more than $2 million in 2008, a little over half a million in 2009, and nearly $1.6 million in 2010. This looks great, until you take the data apart a little.  In the good news column, the university has not paid any direct subsidy to the athletic department over the past three years.  However, they have been charging student fees to support the department.  A lot of student fees: in 2008, $1,987,931.  In 2009, $2,098,087.  And in 2010, $2,146,293.  That trend is probably going in the wrong direction, though not all that much.  But if we take the student fee subsidy (and let’s be honest, that’s what it is) out of the revenue column, the figures don’t look that rosy:

2008: a tiny profit, less than $200k

2009: a loss of $1.6 million

2010: a loss of more than half a million.

Yep, over the past three years, the athletic department has lost around $2 million.  Now, to be fair, that does not include the revenues to branded merchandise that is not attributed to the athletic department (i.e. bookstore sales, which are huge) that went to the university general fund, which likely pushed this figure back toward revenue neutrality.


Now, let’s look up the road to our in-state rival, Clemson (also a state school, though a lot of people seem to be unaware of this).  Again, a quick look at the numbers suggests that Clemson ran in the black, making more than $870,000 in 2008, losing $500,000 in 2009, and rebounding to make $780,000 in 2010.  But if you take apart the numbers, it gets ugly quick:

In 2008, the school subsidized the athletic department to the tune of $2,435,268, and charged students an additional $1,501,216 in fees to support the department ($3.9 million total).  In 2009, it was a subsidy of $2,924,005 and fees of $1,535,940 (nearly $4.5 million).  Finally, in 2010, the numbers were $3,233,520 in subsidy and $1,585,556 in fees ($4.8 million).  This is a lot of money in a state that is more or less broke, and in which tuition and fees continue to rise.  The net?

2008: A loss of over $3 million

2009: A loss of $5 million

2010: Another loss of $4 million

Yeah, there is no way they are covering that with merchandizing, and given the relatively poor quality of the teams coming out of their program in recent years, I doubt this is spurring serious alumni donations.

Oh, and WTF is going on with Virginia’s (my old athletic department) numbers?  In 2010, they ran an $11 million dollar profit, but charged the students $12 million in fees?  This makes absolutely no sense . . . I have to assume the data here is screwed up somehow, as that would work out to around $870 per student (including grads and professional students)!  There is no way that flies there.  I can only assume we are looking at a lot of misreported fees – I mean, looking at dollars in and dollars out, why not just cut the fees down to $1 million and go for revenue neutrality?