The original intent of this post was for me to be Real Mad. I was going to rant about the various inequities in college sports funding, based mostly off the idea that athletic departments that take subsidies from their students and schools are gouging the very system and people that prop them up.
And, in a macro sense, this remains true. Alabama's athletic department, for instance, is heavily subsidized by the university but still took in easily $20 million in profit last year.
There is no real reason for them to take over $5 million from the university to fund their various sports programs, other than sheer greed and a desire to sustain spending.
But you know who doesn't engage in such noxious, underhanded behavior? That's right, The Ohio State University.
The shining university on a hill took no student fees and no money from the university to fund the athletic department, and hasn't for years. Not only that, but it's managed to ensure that almost all profits were put directly back into the department itself, helping to fund and improve the dozens of varsity sports that Ohio State sponsors on a yearly basis.
It's a noble enterprise, separate from the cluttered rabble that make up the large schools in the South.
So that's one way to look at it. Another, perhaps more accurate way to look at it is that Ohio State forces students into athletics fees that are even more burdensome than what you see in other colleges and universities that have subsidized athletic departments.
Is it for a worthy cause? Is the money being spent wisely? Yes and yes. But it might be time to get off our high horse and use its hooves for glue.
Last May, USA Today did a comprehensive study on the spending of 227 college athletic departments, and that's where most of the data in this article is drawn from. Their data is through the fiscal year of 2011, which while not ideal, gives a decent picture of the ideas that I'm talking about here.
Another caveat that I'm going to add is that on the face of it these issues matter mostly to the football or basketball fan; a student at Ohio State who has no interest in purchasing a football or basketball ticket can go right ahead and feel convinced of OSU's superiority to other schools, as their wallet and the university's sports programs are not connected in any way.
I'm guessing that not too many of them are reading this, but in a bit I'll get to why maybe they should.
Let's start with Florida, partly because they have a huge athletic department budget and also because as of 2011, they solicited millions of dollars in student fees (in addition to the $1.8 million they took from the university). As with every other school I'll discuss here, football is the primary revenue earner. It probably doesn't surprise anyone that Florida's $123 million in profits for 2011 didn't come from water polo, but I want to emphasize the importance of football ticket sales here.
In 2011, a season ticket for a student at Florida cost 105 bucks. If you divide the roughly $2.5 million in student fees by the roughly 50,000 students at the college, you get a student athletics fee of around 50 bucks. In other words, if you're a student who bought a season ticket for football in 2011 at the University of Florida, your total contribution to the athletic department was $155, give or take an accounting trick or two.
Another SEC athletic department, Alabama, took over $5 million from its university in "school funds" (which USA Today describes as "both direct and indirect support from the university, including state funds, tuition, tuition waivers etc.") but took no student fees. Alabama charges next to nothing for their student tickets, which means the $35 or so is usually all that the average student will contribute to the Alabama athletic department.
So, Ohio State.
Before I get into this, I want to point out that I'm not ignorant to the fact that OSU has a massive, massive athletic department to fund, and also that other unsubsidized athletic departments (particularly the one at the University of Texas, which closely mirrors Ohio State's) approach funding in essentially the same way that Ohio State does.
Not only do Ohio State students pay what amounts to an athletic fee through football ticket sales, but that "fee" is actually far more than what they'd likely pay should the university institute a student fee to help fund the athletic department.
Student tickets for the 2012 season were $272, or roughly $34 per ticket. That's less than half of market price, but it throws into sharp relief just how much money students at Ohio State give to the athletic department in relation to students at other colleges with major athletic departments, especially in the South.
Students at OSU also pay an involuntary student activity fee of $75 a year, which goes to fund various concerts, speakers, etc., meaning that when all factors and fees are considered, the student season ticket is essentially a smallish discount on the regular market price that the public receives anyway.
Interesting (and extremely irritating, if you're a student) is how OSU football ticket prices have increased in the past few years. It almost feels as if Ohio State's athletic department is starting to realize that instead of having their profits barely cover their expenses, as they've done in the past several years, they're starting to turn their attention to making a solid buck for their efforts. It will be something to monitor.
Two things now become apparent: first is that unsubsidized athletic departments like that of Ohio State are not doing their ticket-purchasing students some great favor by getting rid of student fees; they're still paying the equivalent of that by way of an inflated football ticket. We can get rid of that canard right now, and considering OSU charges students an involuntary fee for services and activities they may never use already, there's not a lot of moral high ground here.
Second, however, is that debate should be "Is it fair to charge student football ticket purchasers a high markup to make up for the lack of a general student athletic fee? Or conversely, what, if any, athletic fee is appropriate to charge a student who has no intention of going to an athletic event?"
It hasn't been a huge issue at Ohio State, but if the athletic department becomes increasingly focused on higher net profits, it's a debate that needs to be had.