SALT LAKE CITY — A report by the Utah State Auditor comparing athletics revenues at Utah's public colleges and universities asks policymakers to consider two questions: How much should NCAA athletics funding be subsidized? And how much of that should come out of students' pockets?
The report released Tuesday examines the portion of total athletics revenue for each institution generated through subsidies, including tuition waivers, student fees, state funds and other sources independent of sporting events. In total, Utah's eight public colleges and universities receive more than $56 million in subsidized funding for athletics.
"The key purpose from our perspective is to provide more transparency to the public and policymakers," Auditor John Dougall said. "The key thing, I think, is for the public to understand where the money goes. So part of our job is to try and help them track the money so they can express their will to what extent they agree or disagree with various decisions."
The University of Utah makes $56.5 million in total athletics revenue — more than double that of Utah State University, its nearest competitor — but only 17.5 percent of that revenue is subsidized, a portion well below that of any other public institution in the state, according to the report.
USU's total athletics subsidy of $14.2 million was the largest of any institution in the state. Salt Lake Community College had the second-lowest subsidy amount at $1.3 million, but the highest percentage of subsidized funding at 88 percent.
Students at Southern Utah University continue to spend the most on athletics, at $1,164 per full-time student — almost $600 above the state average. USU had the next highest per-student rate at $708, and Salt Lake Community College had the lowest at just under $99.
SUU spokeswoman Ellen Treanor said the Cedar City university's per-student subsidy rates are attributable to lower enrollment, though the Utah State Board of Regents projects an 8.9 percent increase in enrollment this year, and an average annual growth rate of 2.2 percent until 2024.
Treanor said the school and its new athletic director are looking at ways to lower the cost to students for its athletics program, including increasing ticket sales and other nonsubsidy funding sources.
"Per student, we spend significantly more, but as far as total spending, we spend less than any other Division I" school in Utah, Treanor said. "Obviously, (enrollment) growth can't get us out of this percentage piece immediately. But I think we will become more in line with our sister schools with expanded community outreach, with our growth of enrollment and designing other creative alternatives."
The trends identified in the report are not new. Analyses for 2012 and 2013 show athletics revenue overall has increased gradually, though some schools have seen decreases from year to year. Per-student subsidies for athletics have increased on average by about $25 since 2012.
The report does not offer recommendations, but Dougall said he hopes it will clarify to the public how revenues are generated and help policymakers consider whether changes are needed.
"We're not saying any specific decision or outcome is good," he said. "But really, policymakers and the public should look and ask the questions: to what extent should NCAA athletics be subsidized, and to what extent should students be required to subsidize those sports?"