One of the recurring questions each Olympic swim meet brings up is that of athletes who train at American NCAA institutions but represent foreign nations in international competition.
While the discussion often lingers on fairness and ethics, the true center of the argument is money – particularly at public universities, where some argue that American tax dollars are being used to fund athletic departments that train foreign athletes who then turn around and beat American athletes for Olympic medals.
That, of course, ignores the non-money aspects of the issue. Most schools promote a diverse population, and administration (and many swimmers) find it a positive experience to have classmates and teammates from different nationalities and backgrounds. There are plenty of less-money-related arguments on both sides, but without hard-and-fast figures to analyze, they turn more into an exercise in editorializing than in reporting facts.
While those arguments have their place (and that place, at least earlier this month, was often in the comments section of our Olympic recaps), there’s one more nuance that’s worth a look – athletic departments that actually make money for a school, thereby reversing the cashflow and funding academics.
That’s not the case very often. In fact, as of 2014, just 24 schools in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision (which comprises mostly the biggest and best-known schools and conferences in the nation) brought in more revenue than they spent, according to the NCAA.
A few years earlier, ACTA (the American Council of Trustees and Alumni) broke down the numbers further. In 2012, 23 of 228 NCAA Division I athletics departments created more revenue than they spent. And of those 23, 16 received subsidies of some sort.
That left 7 programs that didn’t receive subsidies and still broke even. That list is below:
- Ohio State
- Penn State
Of the schools on that list one stands out: Texas’s Joseph Schooling was at the center of many of these comment section discussions when he won Singapore’s first Olympic swimming gold after two seasons competing and training with the Longhorns collegiate program.
But fans can rest assured that Schooling, at least, wasn’t technically turning American tax dollars into nabbing an Olympic gold medal over American Michael Phelps, because Texas’s athletic department is one of the few self-sufficient departments nationwide. (If anything, any funding Schooling gets from Texas is more likely income from the school’s football and basketball teams in ticket or apparel sales. Of all NCAA sports, only FBS football and basketball turned a profit in 2014. Men’s swimming programs ran a median deficit of almost $600,000 nationwide and women’s swimming about $630,000).
If nothing else, this very niche discussion serves as a handy list of schools where complaints about foreign athletes taking U.S. tax dollars don’t logically hold up.