In the USA, professional sports is big at many universities. Many, if not all, get a lot of money from such events (e.g., broadcasting rights to ESPN, or from different sportsware/equipment companies for brand endorsements, etc.). Does any of this money go to educational and research activities of the university? Or only sports department of the university utilizes it, e.g., in paying the coach and other staff?

Edit: I know that the above question is related to this question: American universities - where does all the money go? in some sense but mine is narrower.

  • Related: Why do American colleges and universities have sports teams?
    – ff524
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 0:00
  • 2
    My appraisal of the "men's athletic department" at my R1 vaguely-paid-for-by-the-state university is that it is a sort of closed system, and only very slightly interacts with any genuine education or research. The point is that the "alumni" with money to give are ... apparently, historically, ... bigger fans of men's sports than of education, research, scholarship, ... "whatevs". Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 0:30
  • Paul Garrett's comment matches my impression of what happens at my university. The only connection that I see between the athletic budget and education is that the athletic budget pays for some tutoring of athletes. I once taught a class that had two varsity hockey players in it, and I got a few calls (this was before email existed) from the athletic department asking to be notified if these guys were having difficulty in my class. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 18:26

1 Answer 1


Revised answer: At my university, where football is big, the athletics department supports itself, and that some of the money goes back to the university, but the only specific instances I know of are donations to the art museum and history of science collection. That said, I am sure most of revenue generated stays within athletics.

For instance, this article talks about the most profitable football programs, and out of Alabama's $110 million revenue in 2013, $6.5 million (5.9%) went back to "academic programming." However, the details of how that money got used, and how much actually went back athletics (via athletic scholarships) is unclear. In any case, this is a small amount of the university operating budget. Florida that year gave the most back to academic programming $7.2 million, but the general and educational expenses were $524 million.

However, most universities lose money on athletics (see, e.g., this and this). These universities make up for this by doing things like charging students fees for the athletics program and cutting funds to other programs/units. Even some of the ones which are termed profitable get large subsidies (e.g., student fees)--only 7/230 Division I athletics programs did not take subsidies last year . These articles say that even the donations athletics help generate goes back to athletics and that a relatively small amount of the athletics costs (about 16%) goes to student aid.

  • But what about the leftover money after paying all staff and services. I am talking about the universities which gain money from sports (as opposed to lose). Do they use it for education/research at all?
    – John
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 2:36
  • @John There are really very few of these universities, especially when you take into account subsidies. It seems a small amount goes back to directly to education/research (not counting student athlete scholarships, which are often not as "academic" as they are made out to be) for these schools, though I think a lot of this is soft money and hard to trace. Anyway, I updated my answer with some new info I found.
    – Kimball
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 6:37

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