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January 31, 2018 • Athletic Administration

Participation fees still matter in high school athletics

This is the seventh year of Coach & Athletic Director’s survey of high school athletic administrators. The results help us develop and our editorial vision, while offering readers a glimpse at the opportunities and challenges in prep sports.

When we first commissioned our survey in 2011, athletic departments were struggling. Drastic cuts to public school budgets forced athletic directors to drop many programs, and fewer teachers showed interest in coaching. During the last two years, our survey showed signs of improvement as athletic budgets began to rebound.

This year’s survey continues that trend, with roughly one in five schools reporting increases in their athletic budgets. More schools are planning capital projects, but fundraising remains a critical component of athletic departments everywhere.

Part of our annual survey focuses on the major concerns of high school athletic directors. Finding qualified coaches remains the No. 1 headache for administrators, but new challenges like competition from club sports has climbed the list.

Click here for all results of our 2017-18 State of the Industry survey.

Participation fees still matter

Few schools actually want to charge participation fees, but budget cuts have made them a necessary part of high school sports programs.

Our latest survey shows that more than one in three schools enforce “pay-to-play,” up slightly from last year. When it comes to the fees, more than half of schools charge less than $100, and many schools choose to cap costs to avoid discouraging athletes who want to play more than one sport.

Most athletic directors consider pay-to-play a last resort, insisting that it creates barriers to participation. A 2016 study by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that participation fees hit low-income families the hardest. It showed that participation by students with a household income of less than $60,000 decreased by 27 percent, compared to just 12 percent for students with household incomes of more than $60,000.


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