General Fees Feed Athletics

The NCAA considers an athletic department to be self-sufficient if it’s operating revenues are equal to or larger than its operating expenses without the assistance of outside funding, otherwise known as being in the black. As of 2015, only 24 NCAA athletic departments could claim to fit that definition. All were from power conferences, meaning all benefited from major football revenue.

USA Today database organized by the size of the school's subsidy as a percentage of the total athletic budget

USA Today database organized by the size of the school's subsidy as a percentage of the total athletic budget

That leaves countless Division I athletic departments operating at a deficit, or in the red. To compensate, nearly all are subsidized by student fees and university funds. IUPUI’s athletic department is funded by the twelfth largest proportion of subsidy money out of the 231 Division I schools evaluated.

In 2015, 85 percent of IUPUI’s athletic budget was funded by university subsidies. Of which,  $3,193,461 came from student fees and another $4,802,483 came from school funds. That is the largest subsidy of all Summit League schools, proportionally. The amount coming from student fees also happens to be nearly twice the amount relied upon by in-state, conference rival IPFW.

Khalid Alsufayan is a junior in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was unaware that his student fees went towards supporting the athletic department.

“I’m not surprised,” he added.

The current general student fee at IUPUI is roughly $365. Billing statements do not specify where that fee goes, whereas other fees are fairly explicit. At least a portion, however, goes towards subsidizing the school’s athletic department.

At a school that markets itself under the slogan “Fulfilling the Promise,” the promise being the basic principle of public education for the community at large, the surreptitious allocation of student fees to the athletic department, albeit common, is ethically questionable.

IUPUI is a school that prides itself on its service to non-traditional students. Professors are generally flexible, and tuition was previously malleable depending on the demands of individual students in a given semester. Disguised expenses and recent changes to the university's tuition structure, however, continue to restrict the value and flexibility of IUPUI’s education.

Just last year the school adopted banded tuition, which effectively decreased the flexibility of non-traditional students while increasing the likelihood of graduation in four years. Indiana happens to be a state that utilizes performance-based funding for its public universities, which takes into account four year graduation rates. Many students, traditional and not, have very little interest in athletics at IUPUI at all.

Sam Shaffer, a freshman nursing student, did not account for college athletics when choosing a university.  

“Sports didn’t influence my college choice,” Shaffer said. “I was just looking for a quality nursing school.”

How any of this affects the school’s “promise” is debatable, but students hold strong opinions.

“I think activities for the students is more important than athletes,” said Alsufayan.

Unlike many of their conference foes, IUPUI’s athletic department operates as an auxiliary enterprise of Indiana University. Because of this, they cannot operate at a deficit beyond what that year’s subsidy allows, putting pressure on coaches to formulate and maintain strict budgets.

This creates an obstacle when it comes to recruiting. IPFW Men’s Basketball recruiting budget overshot IUPUI’s by over $7,000. Coach Jason Gardner of IUPUI could not be reached for comment, but it’s interesting to note the number of out-of-state players each team has on their roster. IPFW has 10 players from out-of-state on their roster along with one international player. IUPUI has just four players from out-of-state and five players from the Indianapolis metropolitan area.

Athletic subsidies have long been a staple in college sports, and that is unlikely to change anytime in the foreseeable future. It’d be nice to see a better return on the investment, though.