Jody Lipford and Jerry Slice write for the Martin Center about universities with high levels of spending on sports.

In 2017, Clemson spent over $46 million, or 42 percent of its $110 million athletic budget, on football. Duke led the way in men’s basketball spending nearly $21 million, or over 19 percent of its $109 million athletic budget, on its most-acclaimed sport. The other “big players” are “big spenders” too. South Carolina tops the major competitors in the Carolinas, spending a whopping $140 million, while Wake Forest spends the least at about $71 million. North Carolina and North Carolina State fit in the middle at approximately $97 million and $87 million, respectively.

Those are large numbers. What do they tell us about athletic spending? And what about other schools in the Carolinas, from up-and-coming powers like Appalachian State to small schools such as Winston-Salem State or Erskine?

Why does athletic spending matter?

We set out to investigate these questions, and our findings, recently published in the journal Political Economy in the Carolinas, tell us that the aggregate figures don’t reveal that much. Understanding the costs of collegiate athletics is more complicated than it may first appear.

To start, total budget figures, like many large sums, hide more than they reveal. To gain a better understanding of how much schools in the Tarheel and Palmetto states spend on athletics, we scale the total amounts by the number of students. We recognize, too, that because private schools generally have higher tuition than public schools, the value of their athletic scholarships inflates their total cost figures.