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Colorado universities are increasingly losing money on sports as coaches’ pay, recruitment costs rise

Coaches’ salaries rose at every D1 and D2 university and college in Colorado except one between the 2013 and 2019 fiscal years

University of Colorado power forward Tyler Bey makes a move to the basket during a game against Nebraska. (University of Colorado Athletics Department photo)
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Colorado’s public universities increasingly lost money on their sports programs as they spent more on coaches’ salaries, recruitment and other expenses between 2013 and 2019, an audit by the state released Monday shows.

Expenses for athletics increased by $75.9 million during the audit period, while revenue increased by only $49.2 million over the same span at the 11 schools that were reviewed, including the University of Colorado and Colorado State University.

The three Division I NCAA schools included in the audit were CU, CSU and the University of Northern Colorado. In 2019, these schools in total spent $170 million on sports, but had income of just more than $120 million. 

CSU had the biggest gap in 2019, spending $54.3 million on sports but taking in $32.3 million, leaving $22 million to be backfilled by institutional support including student fees. 

The audit also looked at sports-related expenses and revenue at Division II schools Adams State University, the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University Pueblo, Colorado Mesa University, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Fort Lewis College, University of Colorado Colorado Springs and Western Colorado University. The Division II schools spent $64.3 million on sports in 2019, but had just $13.3 million in income. Colorado School of Mines had the most expenses in excess of revenue among Division II schools, spending $10.4 million more than its $2.5 million in income. 

Coaches’ salaries increased by at least 15% at each of the schools except for Fort Lewis College in Durango, where they dropped by 4%, the audit said. 

Recruitment expenses, meanwhile, increased by at least 5% at every school that was included in the audit but CSU Pueblo. CSU Pueblo’s recruitment expenses went down 10%. The University of Colorado Colorado Springs recruitment expenses increased 874% to $222,396 from $22,840 as the school added baseball, women’s lacrosse and expanded track offerings for men and women between 2013 and 2019.

The audit found each institution’s athletic expenses — which also include uniforms, travel,  scholarships and other costs — are growing at a faster rate than the self-supporting revenue they bring in, such as ticket and concessions sales, parking fees and media rights, and sports camps.  

“The only Colorado university athletic programs that generated enough self-supporting revenues to cover all related expenses for fiscal year 2019 were the University of Colorado Boulder’s football and men’s basketball programs,” the state auditor’s office said in a news release.

Football and men’s and women’s basketball were the greatest revenue-generating sports for both Division I and Division II universities, but the programs also had the greatest expenses.

In 2019, 5,273 student athletes received a college education at an institution while participating in a Division I or Division II athletic program; 3,478 of these student athletes received a total of $46.1 million in athletic financial aid, the audit said.

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