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College sports: Misplaced priorities

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Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A new report that shows public NCAA Division I schools spend three to six times more on each of their athletes than on educating each of their students removes any doubt that their priorities are horribly reversed.

The American Institutes of Research's Delta Cost Project also found that such schools' per-capita-athletic spending rose at least twice as fast as their academic spending between 2005 and 2010, The New York Times reports. And the more big time the sports, the more backward the priorities were.

The median 2010 spending by what's known as Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) schools was $92,000 per athlete, less than $14,000 per full-time student. In the top-tier “power conferences” — Southeastern, Big 12, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big East — that per-athlete spending exceeded $100,000, with athletics getting at least six times more per capita than academics.

And if sports really were a “profit center” paying for other things — a common rationalization — student fees wouldn't have accounted for 7.6 percent of athletic budgets at FBS schools, student fees and “institution and state support” for 70 percent at other Division I schools.

An American Council on Education official says these backward priorities are unsustainable but persist because college presidents find far less support for reining in athletic spending than for perpetuating their “financial arms race.”

What a bitter lesson this report teaches students and taxpayers — and what a need there is for remedial courses of action.

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