Use financial data to offer context on college athletics

knight commissionResearch into athletics spending has never been easier for college sports media thanks to both the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the USA Today athletics/coaches’ salary databases. These resources enable college sports journalists to compare finances in order to develop numerous comparisons. This morning, for example, I played with financial data related to both our school (Eastern Illinois University) and our conference (Ohio Valley) that has yielded information for at least a few stories worth investigating.

Here is a sampling of data about EIU’s spending based upon 2012 finances from the Knight Commission database: EIU ranks ninth among 10 OVC schools in total athletic spending at $29,159 per FTE. [Data for Belmont and SIU-E were unavailable.] Southeast Missouri spent $259 less overall per FTE than EIU does. EIU spent $12,550 more on athletics (FTE) than on academics. In this category, EIU ranks at the bottom. Murray State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State, meanwhile, each spent more than $30,000 more per FTE on athletics than on academics.

Once I look over all of the data, I suspect the OVC will be at, or near, the bottom of conferences in athletic spending per FTE. The Southeastern Conference, conversely, will be at, or near, the top in athletic spending. In the SEC, Auburn spent $225,595 on athletics per FTE, which is $198,738 more than it spends on academics per FTE. Four SEC schools spend more than $200,00 on athletics per FTE. Ole Miss is at the bottom, spending $135,008 per FTE, which is more than $120,000 more per FTE than it spends on academics.

If this data seems confusing, that might be because these figures are presented rather dryly. Like all stories, this one needs context, which means I’d need to speak with coaches, athletes and administrators, to read stories on athletics budgets and to observe stadiums, locker rooms and other facilities on campus in order to find a storyline. Data should serve as the foundation to support these stories.

ovc pictureNo need to take on all the data at once. Start small, building on one aspect and then moving from there. For instance, you might want to begin with a comparison between academic spending per FTE and athletic spending per FTE. Afterward, you might want to create a third column that includes the difference between these figures. Here’s what I recorded for the OVC (see picture on the right).

Were I writing a story, I would then rank the data by whatever category I deemed most important, or I would cite the schools in alphabetical order and offer the three columns in a well-designed graphic.

This information does not offer the entire perspective on sports at EIU nor in the Ohio Valley Conference. But it’s something you can build on in the coming weeks or months – and everybody would be the better for these stories.


About jgisondi

I covered sports and worked as a sports copy editor for more than 20 years at several newspapers in Florida, including the Fort Myers News-Press, Clearwater Sun, Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. I started writing for a weekly sports publication in Coral Springs, Fla., at age 15. I have been hooked on sports journalism ever since. I was fortunate to have worked with some amazing editors along the way, journalists who took the time to help me even when my copy was not top-notch. Now, I teach journalism at Eastern Illinois University and work as an editor for, a vertical that focuses on Big Ten athletics. A second edition of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports" will be available sometime in February 2017. The book is a practical guide to preparing, observing, interviewing and writing about 20 different sports, from auto racing to wrestling. Chapters also address ways to cover high school sports, fantasy sports, to develop sports blogs. You can also learn how to cover games, to write features and to interview better. Fans can also learn basic rules of these sports, along with ways to better observe the action. New chapters in the second edition will address social media, advanced analytics, fantasy sports coverage and revised, expanded chapters address game coverage, features and columns, among other new sections.
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