TAMPA, Florida - For most, it's been four years of hard work, studying, and sacrifices. But one thing many of the 5,700 graduating seniors at the University of South Florida never learned was how much of their money was going toward the growing athletic department.
By the time the average senior walks across the stage to get his or her diploma this week, he or she will have paid more than $1,600 to the USF Athletics Department through student fees.
Each student currently pays $13.73 per credit hour to the athletics department, more than the $11.28 that goes toward student activities and the $9.30 that goes toward student health. Undergraduates need at least 120 credit hours to graduate.
All told, student fees make up $14.5 million of the university's $34.9 million athletics budget, or 42% in budget year 2010-2011.
In the 2009-2010 budget, student fees made up only 33%, but it was still the largest total of any school in the six major conferences:
- USF (33%)
- Virginia (15%)
- UConn (15%)
- Rutgers (13%)
- Miss St. (10%)
"This is not unusual," said Kristi Dosh of The Business of College Sports. "(Most) sports lose money and football and men's basketball have to make up for it along with alumni contributions and student fees."
But at USF, she said, the football and men's basketball programs are only turning profits of $4 million and $1 million, respectively, so student fees have to balance the budget.
Dosh added that many Florida public schools in smaller conferences relied even more heavily on student fees in the last full budget year, 2009-2010 (student fees as percentage of total athletics budget in parenthesis):
- FIU (71%)
- FAU (55%)
- UCF (44%)
- USF (33%)
- FSU (9%)
- UF (2%)
At the University of Florida, the football program turns a $44 million profit annually - more than the entire USF budget for all sports. Alumni donations were also plentiful at UF.
USF alumni contributions were minimal, Dosh said.
"I've talked to a number of different athletic departments in similar positions (as USF)," Dosh said. "The hope is that in the future, as their program grows and their football team gets stronger, alumni will step up and shoulder more of the burden."
Dosh said USF revenue has soared since joining the Big East and should continue to grow, potentially easing the reliance on student fees.
And officials at USF pointed out students that pay the fees have access to free tickets to all events, including the largest football allocation in the Big East.
Dosh and university officials both said a successful athletics program helps boost a university's reputation as well as its academics.
"If the university has certain accolades and is well-known across the country," Dosh said, "it can apply for research grants and other things...it can lift the whole school up."
Connect with 10 News reporter Noah Pransky on Twitter at www.twitter.com/noahpransky, Facebook at www.facebook.com/noahpransky, or on his Sports Business blog, Shadow of the Stadium.