Adapted from NCAA Research; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

At the more than 1,100 schools across all three NCAA divisions, roughly $18.1 billion was spent on athletics in 2018.

Why it matters: The total revenue generated was $10.3 billion, leaving nearly $8 billion that had to be subsidized by other sources — $6.5 billion from institutional and government support and $1.5 billion from student fees.

By the numbers:

  • Revenues: The five largest sources of athletics revenue were direct institutional or government support (35%), media contracts (18%), donor contributions (16%), ticket sales (11%) and student fees (8%).
  • Expenses: The five largest sources of expenses were student aid (19%), coach compensation (15%), facilities (17%), administration compensation (16%) and game and travel (11%).

Between the lines: Schools are not required to disclose how much of their tuition revenue goes towards athletics (see above: student fees), leaving students in the dark about how much they're being charged and where that money is going.

  • State funding is often restricted for educational use, so four out of five of the 230 D-I public universities charge students a fee to finance sports teams, according to an NBC News investigation, with some charging in excess of $2,000 annually.

The big picture: Universities have long argued that investing in athletics pays off in the long run because successful teams help raise the school's national profile, boost the number of applications and lure major donors.

  • But as tuition costs continue to rise and a generation of students grows increasingly critical of where their money is being spent, that ideology could be under threat.

The last word:

"At some point, the students have to start asking, 'Why am I paying $1,000 to support this football team when I have no interest in going?'"
— Allen Sanderson, University of Chicago economics professor

Go deeper: Women take the lead on donating to support female college sports

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