Georgia Regents cap student funding of athletic programs

Georgia State University would have to cut the amount of student fees and tuition that fund its athletic programs by about $700,000, according to a new policy adopted by the state’s Board of Regents on Tuesday.

The Regents set limits on the amount of money from student fees and tuition that can go toward athletic programs at the state’s public colleges and universities. The cap will be between 65 percent and 85 percent of the athletic budget at most schools, depending on each school’s athletic association.

The new rules come as a national review of the high cost of athletics at some schools has led to debate about rising college costs and whether students get a good return on their investment when they foot the bill for sports. The goal is for Georgia colleges to seek money for sports through fundraising and other revenue sources beyond what students pay.

The new rules also cap growth in athletics expenses at 5 percent a year.

The policy update will have little impact on athletic powerhouses Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, which already fund most of their sports programs through broadcasting rights, contributions, ticket sales and other revenue sources. UGA relied on just 2.8 percent of student funding for sports last year; Georgia Tech, 7.2 percent. Both were well under the 10 percent cap placed on them.

Georgia State is one of six schools — along with Armstrong State, Middle Georgia State, East Georgia State, Gordon State and Atlanta Metropolitan State colleges — that is over the subsidy cap, and must cut its reliance on student funding. Almost 68 percent of Georgia State’s athletics budget was subsidized last year, almost 3 percentage points higher than the 65 percent cap now set.

Georgia schools will have four years to get into compliance with the new funding cap. If a school exceeds the cap, the Board of Regents will have the authority to order changes to the athletic program.

Georgia State was highlighted in a report late last year by The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Huffington Post. That report found that in the past five years public universities pumped more than $10.3 billion in mandatory student fees and other subsidies into their sports program. Georgia State put about $90 million of students fees into its sports programs in that time frame. Further investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that students paid almost $213 million in fees to support sports programs at six universities competing at the highest level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Division I, in Georgia over the five years.

Georgia State is aware of the new policy, and is currently evaluating all of its options, the school’s athletic director Charlie Cobb, said in a statement to the AJC on Tuesday, “When the time comes, we will be in compliance.”

The student funding is still too high, said Regent Richard Tucker.

“It seems we ought to be thinking about lowering that number. We need to put the impetus on external fundraising, whatever it may be,” Tucker said. “As we’re discussing, let’s not let that be the end all of being in compliance with a high percentage.”

Regent Ben Tarbutton III, chairman of the committee that oversaw the athletics report, said the proposed subsidy percentage is in line with national levels. “But I don’t disagree,” he said. “We really need to look at that limit and over time work toward lowering it. This is our first run at it.”

With the Board’s approval Tuesday, the updated policies take effect July 1. In addition to the student funding and annual expense caps, the policies also require more comprehensive annual athletics reports from each school detailing programs’ financial information, along with any association infractions and projected annual operating shortfalls. The system also plans to review campus sports programs to determine whether they are financially viable and operating in the athletic division most beneficial to the school.

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