Public colleges and universities that compete in N.C.A.A. Division I sports spend three to six times as much on each athlete as they do to educate each of their students, according to a new report by the Delta Cost Project at the American Institutes for Research.
"Participation in intercollegiate athletics in the United States comes with a hefty price tag, one that is usually paid in part by students and institutions," said Donna Desrochers, the author of the report. "Public institutions with Division I athletic programs have continued to invest significant resources in athletics, even as academic budgets were under strain during the recent recession."
Between 2005 and 2010, on a per-capita basis, the report found, athletic costs increased at least twice as fast as academic spending at institutions with top-tier athletic programs.
"The Delta report confirms what a lot of college presidents have long feared: that intercollegiate athletics has become a financial arms race," said Terry Hartle, a senior vice president at the American Council on Education. "Sooner or later, the increases will be unsustainable. I thought we would reach that point a decade ago, but it shows no sign of slowing down."
Many college presidents would like to pull back on athletic spending, he said, "but taking significant steps in that direction would cost them their job, because the constituencies for increasing spending are numerous and powerful, and the counterpressures are few and relatively powerless."
About one-third of athletic spending at Division I institutions goes to salaries and compensation, the report found, and about a fifth to facilities and equipment. In its tally of athletic costs, the report included recruiting, athletic scholarships, marketing costs, sports camps and spirit groups. Education costs included instruction, student services and a portion of academic and instructional support, and operations and maintenance.
Supporters of college athletics say the costs are worth it: ambitious sports programs, and, especially a winning season, can lift a college's reputation, donations, applications and school spirit.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association, asked for comment on the report, said it had no role in the matter.
"Every college and university makes its own budget decisions, both for the overall campus and for athletics," Erik Christianson, the N.C.A.A.'s managing director of external affairs, said in an e-mailed statement. "Institutions are reluctant to cede authority over their budgets to the N.C.A.A."
Football consumes much of the athletic budget. At institutions competing in the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision, the report found, median athletic spending per athlete was $92,000 in 2010, compared with median academic spending per full-time student of less than $14,000. In the other Division I subdivisions, median athletic spending per athlete ranged from $37,000 to $39,000, compared with median academic spending per full-time student of about $11,800.
At the "power conferences" -- the Southeastern, Big 12, Pac-10, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten and Big East -- median athletic spending per athlete topped $100,000 in 2010, and each conference spent at least six times more on athletics than academics, per capita.
Most Division I athletic departments receive support from their institutions and students. In the Football Bowl Subdivision, the report found, student fees cover 7.6 percent of athletic budgets, while 10.1 percent comes from institution and state support. The rest comes from revenues generated through ticket sales and television agreements and other sources. In the other subdivisions, more than 70 percent of athletic budgets come from student fees and institutional and state support.
Smaller institutions rely more on student fees to cover athletic expenses than larger ones. At public institutions that do not compete in football, student fees account for 42.2 percent of athletic department revenue.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.