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Nov 16, 2021

School Budgets Versus Student Athletics: How Both Can Win

School Budgets Versus Student Athletics: How Both Can Win

Keeping your district fiscally healthy while providing a solid educational and extracurricular experience for the community’s youth is a daunting responsibility—especially since it never seems to end. Once one school budget is approved, planning and negotiations start on the next one. You’re right back to the drawing board, facing the latest revenue shortages and funding reductions and wondering how to pay for a myriad of cost increases and new expenditures. And, you’re usually juggling this while hearing plenty of feedback from the community and dealing with local politics.

Torsos of boys playing basketball in a gym, wearing white and blue uniforms.

Rising to the top of your concerns is your school’s athletic program and how to keep it strong and safe at a time when spending is being questioned. Additionally, arguments continue over the different dollar amounts spent per child on sports versus academics . How are some school districts meeting these challenges?

Budget Solutions to Help Meet Rising School Sports Costs

While providing education is paramount, there are also strong reasons why athletics are critically important to a school:

  • They provide participating students with an identity and purpose
  • They are invaluable for at-risk students because they provide structure, support, goals, and encouragement they may not have elsewhere
  • They create a sense of pride for the student body and the greater community
  • They instill values of good sportsmanship, team building, and fair play
  • Sports programs enable others: for instance, the marching band plays for football games

But for all of their undeniable value, there’s no denying that the cost of running school sports programs is expensive.

Typical sports program costs

Costs are made up of direct expenses commonly associated with running the programs and indirect expenses that represent capital purchases, field maintenance, utilities, and other miscellaneous expenditures. Costs include:

  • Salaries or stipends for coaches and assistants
  • Administrative and insurance costs
  • Subcontracted services such as:
  • Doctors and athletic trainers
  • Officials, game workers, and security
  • EMS/Ambulance
  • Medical supplies
  • Equipment purchases and repair
  • League Dues
  • Team uniforms and other apparel (and their upkeep and replacements)
  • Team refreshment (snacks, lunches, dinners)
  • Team awards/banquet
  • Transportation/travel
  • Tournament fees
  • Custodial services
  • Sound crew and equipment
  • Signage and lighting
  • Field maintenance and storage

With some schools offering as many as 18 or more programs for boys and girls, you can see how budgets for these extracurriculars can easily top $1 million. To counter budget cuts, schools count on revenue from the sports to offset some of the costs.

Typical Sports Program Revenue Sources

These monies come to the district through:

  • Gate receipts
  • Program sales
  • Concession stand revenue (in some instances)
  • Donations from alumni or other sources

Unfortunately, the funds raised by these channels aren’t usually enough to fill all of these line items in the sports budget. So what can athletic departments and schools do to get to a win-win situation for both? That’s when schools, teams, and parents start to get creative.

Raising Money For Sports Teams

Many schools have introduced participation fees for sports, clubs, arts, and other extracurriculars. These “ pay-to-play ” fees can range from less than $100 in some districts (and states) to close to $1,000 or more, depending on the location. While these fees go a long way toward filling budget holes, there is also concern that schools see lower participation from students whose parents can’t pay the fee. Or they may feel that the benefits of participation are outweighed by the cost. (Many schools do offer scholarships for interested families, however.)

Other revenue options include:

Booster clubs and fundraising: Parents form booster clubs and play a vital volunteer role in keeping the sports programs running. Their fundraising—from hoagies to raffles to mattress sales and everything in between—can reach astonishing amounts.

Sponsorships: For a fee, local businesses can support the teams by purchasing naming rights to a stadium or bleacher sections, or the goal posts or lights. Businesses (many of whom are alums) get to support the home team and get their name in front of more customers as well.

Events: Events can be as formal or informal as the teams want. Some schools ask the faculty to play against the team as a popular event. Or, they develop a tournament that brings other school teams in for a special contest. Some run a camp during school breaks where the athletes work with younger children. There’s no end to the type of money-making events schools can imagine.

Also working hand-in-hand with raising money to shore up sports team budgets is:

Reducing Costs

Unfortunately, the easiest way to reduce costs is to eliminate programs . Some schools are banding together with others in their county to share teams and costs; others are replacing junior varsity and/or middle school programs with intramurals or clubs.

However, one less drastic but surprising way that teams are looking to reduce costs is through athletic trainers . While there is a cost associated with bringing one on board, having this resource can make a world of difference to the teams’ health and welfare. And it can have a positive effect on some of the teams’ medical costs.

Athletic trainers can help reduce the risk of injury by working with the coaches and the student-athletes. They can also lessen the impact of injuries by helping with student-athletes’ recovery and training. This, in turn, can lower medical costs for families and the district and also help reduce litigation opportunities by families who may use it as a way to recoup medical payments or to show their unhappiness with the way their child’s injury was handled or happened.

The Role Of Sports Accident Insurance

Schools may be surprised to learn that sports accident insurance may help lower the district’s budget. Programs like the one with A-G Specialty Insurance can do just that. Sports accident insurance pays for the deductibles, co-payments, and other out-of-pocket costs left by the student-athlete’s primary insurance when treated for an injury. This relieves the family of financial stress, especially if they don’t have primary insurance, so there is less chance of the family pursuing legal recourse. Now they can concentrate on their child’s recovery.

A-G works with over 40 provider networks to help control treatment costs. A-G also provides claims reports to help coaches and trainers understand the frequency and types of injuries and provide solutions. This risk management can reduce medical costs and ultimately premiums: one K-12 school recently saw a 25% reduction in premiums and saved $176M in claims.

As sports insurance specialists, A-G has protected many thousands of students and student-athletes at K-12 schools, colleges, and universities for nearly 40 years. With a selection of plans that can be tailored to your district’s unique needs, you owe it to yourself to find out how we can help. It might just make the difference you need in your school budget planning . Please don’t hesitate to have your insurance agent reach out, or reach out yourself, to learn more. Get started here .


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