The business of college athletics

Academic spending versus athletic spending

Academic Costs

El Paso, Texas - College sports has become big business.

For proof, you need to look no further than the shoes and jerseys adorned with logos like Nike. According to Delta Cost Project, college sports was an enterprise worth more than $6 billion in 2010, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Bob Stull, the athletic director at the University of Texas-El Paso, said the landscape and cost of sports continues to grow. A contract with UTEP's new head football coach hasn't been released yet, but Stull has made it clear that UTEP isn't going to be spending $1.5 million as many other colleges have become accustomed to doing. Stull said he'd prefer to build escalators into the contract based on on-field success for the team.

While Stull doesn't believe in spending too much money, he believes that some spending is warranted.

"Athletics is the front porch of your university," explained Stull. "It's like my first full-time job at Kent State and we had this huge shooting on campus. The president came in when we were hired and said, 'You know, we could cure cancer here, and we'd have great articles around the world and it would be in journals, but in athletics it's in the paper and news every day.'"

While UTEP officials say they won't budge while other schools continue to spend big in the athletics business, a recent report shows it's becoming a trend throughout the United States, even in UTEP's own conference.

The Delta Cost Project's January report showed that Conference USA, the conference UTEP plays in, was the fifth highest ratio of athletic spending compared to academics. On average, Conference USA teams spend $76,181 per athlete. The same study shows an expenditure of just $11,867 per academic student.

UTEP President Dr. Diana Natalicio questioned the statistics, pointing out that a small pool of athletes compared to 23,000 students led to unfair comparisons. She did, however, agree that the cost of sports is skyrocketing.

"It (the report) compares expenditures per student athlete, and then academic expenditures against all students," said Natalicio. "Those are two totally different kinds of funding and they're so different in their size. It's around 23,000 students versus some 350 student athletes."

UTEP does appear to be in the bottom half of athletic budgeting. A previous report released by USA Today showed UTEP with a budget of $27,660,527. While the number is low, it also showed that more than half of that budget, around $13.8 million, comes from student fees and school funds.

Those numbers, along with those released by the Delta Cost Project report, seem to debunk the myth that college sports can be self-sustaining. According to the report, even the largest athletic programs in the country need funds from their university, or student fees to operate.

In Texas, that money is monitored even more closely. Unlike some states, like nearby New Mexico, state funds cannot be used for athletic departments in Texas. Instead, schools must rely on money generated by student fees. Natalicio said those fees are why students are allowed free tickets to sporting events.

"It's hard, frankly, maintaining an athletic program that is competitive at a low cost," said Natalicio, discussing how UTEP spends less money on coaches than their direct competitors in Conference USA. "It is always challenging." 

For more information about UTEP, and other college athletic budgets, visit

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