Massages? Saunas? Palm-shaded lazy rivers? Welcome to Resort U.

Amanda Carey Contributor
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Do four years of higher education and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition prepare America’s college students for the “real world?” Well, yes, if their adult lives include sessions on state-of-the-art climbing walls, followed by massages and perhaps relaxing drifts in a lazy river-style pool.

study released in June by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, titled, “Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values and the Future of College Sports,” reports that spending on high-profile sports is increasing at double, sometimes triple, the rate of spending on academics. Between 2005 and 2008, schools within the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) spent four to 11 times more per student when it came to sports-related activities than education-related ones.

But even more surprising are some schools’ spending on the softer side of sports, according to a Daily Caller review of some of the cushiest leisure facilities at American universities.

Consider the University of North Dakota’s $20 million Wellness Center. The center, built in 2006, features a three-court gym, suspended running track, weight areas, group exercise studios, a climbing wall, physical-assessment rooms, a massage room and a healthy cooking demo-kitchen.

At Minnesota State University, students enjoy the state-of-the-art Otto Rec Center. The facility sports cardio machines that are each fitted with a computer, keyboard and mouse, allowing fitness gurus to surf the web or watch a DVD during a workout. All of this was paid for with student fees, of course.

But Minnesota’s recreation center hardly rivals the University of Missouri’s. There, students get a 35-foot climbing tower with an attached bouldering climbing wall. After climbing, students can head over to the aquatic center, where they can enjoy swimming in a 50-meter competitive pool, the outdoor leisure pool or just relax at the indoor beach that features a lazy river, waterfall and palm trees.

The University of South Carolina is also known for its student recreational facility, the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center, which boasts a 52-foot climbing wall. Its aquatics center houses indoor and outdoor pools, spa and dry sauna. That’s in addition to the jogging track, five basketball courts, soccer/floor hockey court and 160 weight-training stations.

But the spending doesn’t stop with world-class recreation centers. It extends to high-profile sports like football, as well.

The Knight report notes that the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12 are the biggest spenders, each conference shelling out $144,592 and $124,054 on athletic programs per student, respectively. In the SEC, median spending per student in academics is a measly $13,410. In the Big 12, it’s $13,741.

So when it comes to the FBS, which schools have the cushiest athletic football programs? According to data obtained by the U.S. Department of Education Equity in Athletics, the Ohio State Buckeyes top the list at $32.3 million for the 2008-2009 school year.

Auburn comes in second place with $28.8 million. After that follows Iowa ($26.9 million), Alabama ($26.44 million), Tennessee ($22.96 million), Florida ($22.86 million), LSU ($22.74 million), and Wisconsin ($22.71 million).

Despite all the spending, few of those schools have stellar football programs. The Buckeyes are a noteworthy exception, losing only 10 games since 2005. But the teams have to play somewhere, right?
According to the school’s website, Ohio State’s football stadium is “one of the most recognizable landmarks in all of sports” and is the fourth largest on-campus facility in the country. In 2001, Ohio Stadium was renovated for $194 million.

In 2007, Auburn University installed a $2.9 million 30-by-74-foot HS LED video display. It was the first SEC and the second NCAA school to do so. Budget woes apparently never reached the University of Alabama, where construction is underway to make Bryant-Denny Stadium the fourth largest in the country. The expansion is expected to cost $65.6 million.

The Knight report also highlights the fact that at a lot of schools, recreational funds often dry up prematurely. As a result, new student fees are imposed and money is borrowed from general university funds. These days though, while universities are undergoing massive budget cuts, it seems like administrators are picking lazy rivers and climbing walls over more sections of freshman English and math courses.