The cooked books of big-time athletic departments show that schools barely break even at best on their athletics budgets. This is often used as evidence that paying athletes is untenable. What it conveniently glosses over is the unbelievable amount of already-existing money being more or less set on fire that, under a sensible system, would go directly to the athletes. Enormous coaching staff salaries, bloated NCAA compliance teams, and lavish practice facilities are just some of the ways universities divert their industry’s billions of dollars into the pockets of everyone but the athletes themselves.

USA Today has a revealing story on one of the trendy ways athletic departments are draining off hundreds of thousands of dollars from their coffers: big ol’ stickers. The stickers—or in more corporate-friendly terms, branded graphics—are used to decorate the already opulent athletics-specific facilities players spend so much of their time in. Think more elaborate Fathead graphics that commemorate all sorts of things like championship-winning teams, notable former players, and even just the program itself.

These graphics are quite expensive. USA Today’s reporters received info on how much athletic departments spent on graphics since 2007 from 29 FBS schools. Millions of dollars are involved—Florida alone somehow spent $2.6 million on this stuff. And as the story explains, the trend is a growing one:

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From 2007, the first year for which USA TODAY Sports asked for data, through 2010, those schools combined to spend a little less than $500,000 a year on such projects. Since then, their combined spending has been an average of more than $2.5 million a year.

In 2014, those schools reached their highest total yet — more than $3.1 million.

The obvious objective here is to lure the best athletes with swank facilities and flashy designs. Put another way, it is money spent to improve the labor pool. In the same way the New Orleans Saints might want to improve their pass rush by plunking down lots of money for a new defensive end, college teams do so by putting up cool-looking graphics.

As for the practice’s effectiveness, USA Today talked to some top-end recruits who’d visited some of the grandest, most graphics-adorned facilities. Their responses varied between “Yeah, those pictures were pretty cool, and I hope to get my face up there one day” to “Meh, I mean, they’re just pictures.” Effective or not, I’d bet all those players would agree that they’d rather see all that money the athletic programs are already spending to sign them in their actual bank accounts rather than in the form of big stickers plastered all around.

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[USA Today]

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