10 News Investigators: USF athletics subsidized by heavy student fees

10:56 AM, Apr 4, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- It may have been USF Athletics' greatest year: a football victory over Notre Dame; two NCAA tournament wins for the men's basketball team; and world-class renovations of the on-campus SunDome.

But national exposure seldom comes free, and USF students are shouldering the load for varsity athletics.

According to its filings with the NCAA, USF Athletics relies on a $15.2 million subsidy from students: fees paid in addition to tuition. 

Each student pays $14.15 per credit hour plus $10 per term for varsity athletics. That's an average of roughly $444 per year or $1,776 for four years. It's greater than the $1,410 students pay for all on-campus activities and services and the $1,168 they pay for campus health care.

The $15.2 million student subsidy makes up 36 percent of the athletic department's budget, more than any other school in the six major power conferences.

Below are the most-subsidized athletic programs in the BCS automatic-qualifier (AQ) conferences: 

University Student Fees
% of athletics budget
USF $15.2M 36%
Virginia $13.0M 17%
Rutgers $9.0M 15%
UConn $8.7M 14%
Virginia Tech
$7.2M 11%
Source: 2011 NCAA filings, university websites

As USF has transitioned into the Big East and grown it's varsity sports program, students have been asked every year to chip in more for varsity athletics.

Since 2004, the athletics fee has increased every year:

Year USF Athletic Fee,
Tampa Campus
(per credit hour)
'03-'04 $8.50
'04-'05 $9.08
'05-'06 $9.50
'06-'07 $10.16
'07-'08 $10.52
'08-'09 $11.50
'09-'10 $11.76
'10-'11 $13.73
'11-'12 $14.15
Students also charged flat $10 fee per term

USF students at Lakeland, Sarasota/Manatee, and St. Petersburg campuses are also charged athletic fees, but in smaller amounts.

"It's about the newness of the athletics department compared to some of the athletic departments they compete against," said ESPN Sports Business Analyst Kristi Dosh.

Dosh points out that USF's alumni contributions have remained fairly stagnant over the years. In 2011, the school reported just $2.7 million in outside contributions. Florida State University (FSU) reported $19 million in the same time frame, while the University of Florida (UF) reported $42 million in donations.

University Outside Contributions
Student Contributions
USF $2.7M  $15.2M
FSU $19.3M  $7.5M
UF $42.0M  $2.5M
Source: 2011 NCAA filings

"I think if you see those alumni donations go up, you'll see those student fees go down," Dosh said.

USF also doesn't reap the same conference rewards of their SEC and ACC colleagues they often compete against:

University Ticket Sales
Royalties, Licensing, Sponsorships
Broadcast Revenue
USF $5.8M  $4.9M $0.5M
FSU $18.0M  $12.2M $0.4M $4.1M
UF $20.9M  $8.5M $8.0M $9.1M
Source: 2011 NCAA filings

But USF's place atop the AQ conference standings will soon change. Next year, UCF joins the Big East. Forty-six percent of UCF's athletics budget is comprised of student subsidies.

Florida's four youngest big-time athletics programs - which all lose money on athletics other than football and men's basketball - have turned to heavy subsidies to balance their budgets:

University Student Fees
% of athletics budget
FIU $16.9M 71%
FAU $10.4M 54%
UCF $18.8M 44%
USF $15.2M 36%
$7.5M 10%
$2.5M 2%
Source: 2011 NCAA filings

Many students at USF were surprised when told of the numbers. Many didn't even know they were being charged in addition to tuition. But there was also a feeling among many students and faculty that it was merely the cost of doing business in big-time college athletics.

"It's not really a bad thing," said USF's Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Jennifer Capeheart-Meningall. "It shows our institution's investment into this aspect of the student experience."

USF students have the biggest ticket allotment in the Big East and will soon have one of the best on-campus arenas too.

There's also the rise in academic prestige tied to athletic successes. Dosh says schools have seen bumps in U.S. News and World Report rankings following championship runs and application numbers often soar as well.

Dosh cites "The Flutie Effect," a theory named for former Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie, whose Orange Bowl win in 1984 was credited with a bump in applications the following year.

She says the University of Florida saw a monstrous 10.7 percent jump in applications after its football and basketball teams won championships in 2006, and another 9.8 percent jump the following year when its basketball team repeated.

USF's application numbers - and thus the quality of its incoming freshman - have grown in recent years, although most students interviewed said they chose the school for academic reasons, not athletics.

USF was just named one of the top five "Up-and-Coming Universities" by the Washington Post for its research prowess.

USF's tuition has also risen steadily in recent years and remains a hotly debated topic as the state legislature has slashed the institution's 2012-2013 funding. The athletics department is expected to be spared from any serious cuts and declined request on the story.

Find 10 News Investigator Noah Pransky on Facebook or follow his updates on Twitter. Read his Sports Business Blog at Shadow of the Stadium.

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