Accountability in college athletics starts with transparency

Abby Krishnan

Recently, students and fans of the Longhorns celebrated the $3 million donation from Texas alumnus and Golden State Warrior, Kevin Durant, to the Texas basketball program. The University will rename two basketball facilities in honor of Durant after his donation to the school.

However, this donation shines a light on more than just the success of Texas athletes. Although this donation will likely make a large impact in the coming years, the transactions made with those funds will be shrouded in mystery.

Detailed information on college athletic financials is only known to a few influential figures in college sports because of an absence of clarity in the financial records of college athletics and a lack of access to information by the public. Currently, the Texas athletic department is among the few nationally that reports a profit and doesn’t take student fees or state resources as funding, meaning our athletic program is self-sufficient. It runs on the profits it makes from broadcasting games, selling tickets and other forms of athletics related revenue. However, self-sufficiency should not allow exemption from public pressure for responsibility with athletics funding.

Part of this transparency problem rises from the financial secrecy with which many schools currently operate. Although schools have an obligation to report their spending, the data is inconsistently collected and not held to clear standards. An article in Forbes magazine discussed common misconceptions about college athletic funding. For example, departments are not supposed to report a deficit. This means that these departments are not required to report if they are spending more money than they generate in athletic revenue. As a result, many college sport teams appear to simply break even. Further, athletic departments aren’t supposed to report revenue that is created outside of its own sport teams. For example, if an athletic department owns a golf course that is open to the public, it wouldn’t report the revenue from the golf course, even though it is revenue deposited in the department’s bank account. These all contribute to poor data collection systems on college athletics due to inadequate reporting standards.

Furthermore, individual numbers are often difficult to access, being made available often only through an open records request. Filing an open records requests is often a time-intensive process that requires a large amount of persistence and resources. Texas Monthly magazine discusses how in 2016, the state of Texas received a grade of F in the “public access to information” category of the Center for Public Integrity’s state rankings for accountability and transparency. With recent rulings from the Texas Supreme Court, data on athletics may become harder to access since these rulings are weakening the Texas Public Information Act, laws many believed were integral to upholding public access to information.

These loopholes in the financial actions of collegiate sports create a blurred image of the spending habits of an athletic department. There is little information published on whether the funding goes towards the students, in the form of financial aid or academic support or improvements to sports infrastructure that benefits the money-making capabilities of the department. If there was better access to these records by the public, there would be more public scrutiny on coaches and the teams itself. It would allow there to be input from more levels of the administration, as well as better oversight overall.

When it comes to Longhorn basketball, the only hoops that must be gone through are the ones on the court. But unfortunately, our current reporting and accountability mechanisms are far too weak.

Krishnan is a computer science freshman from Plano.