North Dakota State To Pay Athletes Even As Students Pay More To Subsidize Athletics


Big news out today is that North Dakota State University, in accordance with new NCAA guidelines, will begin paying some student athletes in the 2016-2017 school year.

“The school will offer full cost of attendance to all of its scholarship athletes beginning in the 2016-17 season, a move that is expected to raise eyebrows across the landscape of mid-major athletic programs,” reports Jeff Kolpack. “It’s an estimated $600,000 to $700,000 bill that will be covered with external fundraising, said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen.”

It’s estimated that a full-scholarship student athlete will receive about $3,400 per year. In order to avoid Title IX issues, the payments will be paid to all qualifying athletes not just those in marquee sports like football.

Yet this news comes even as subsidies to athletic programs from taxpayer appropriations and student dollars at NDSU continue to rise. NDSU is saying that the payments to student athletes will come from private raised dollars, but that may come as cold comfort to taxpayers and students who are already carrying a heavy load to subsidize athletics.

In 2014, the last year for which numbers are available from the NCAA, North Dakota State spent $20.618 million on athletic programs but generated just $12.718 million in revenue from ticket sales, merchandising, etc. The rest – over $7.994 million – came from general university funds and student fees. In other words, taxpayers and students.

That works out to over $542 in subsidies per NDSU student in 2014, a figure that’s up 83 percent since 2005 (I divided the yearly university/student fee subsidy by each year’s fall enrollment):


What’s worse, the subsidies for athletic programs have been on the rise for more than a decade despite multiple back-to-back championship seasons by the school’s very successful football team. Subsidies as a percentage of total revenues for athletics is down, though, thanks to increasing revenues no doubt attributable to the aforementioned football success:

image (1)


NDSU is making it sound like these new payments to players won’t burden students or taxpayers, but the truth is that students and taxpayers are already being burdened by the athletics programs in a big way. A not-at-all insignificant chunk of the cost of attending NDSU for students is payments which go to subsidize athletics.

That’s some ugly context for a school that has now decided to spend even more on athletics to pay athletes.

For what it’s worth, things are actually worse at the University of North Dakota (which has not announced payments to student athletes). Per-student subsidies for athletics at UND have skyrocketed much more so than at NDSU:

image (2)


Meanwhile UND athletic revenues are down (impact of the Fighting Sioux nickname controversy?) while student/university subsidies to athletics are way up:

image (3)


People often talk about the athletic programs at UND and NDSU as a benefit to the universities, and they’re really not. Financially athletics are a major burden on students and taxpayers, and while championship football and hockey teams may bring notoriety to a school (though it’s worth noting that enrollment at North Dakota universities has been pretty stagnant over the last decade) is it the sort of notoriety that enhances the academic mission these schools were founded to pursue?

It sure doesn’t seem that way.