When the University of North Texas sought a multi-million-dollar infusion to help bolster the future of its athletic program, instead of turning to rich oilmen or well-heeled cattle barons, UNT first approached its students.
The willingness of the 36,000-member student body to accept a $10 per credit hour athletic fee will add nearly $8 million annually to the potential Western Athletic Conference member’s coffers beginning in 2011, enough to get construction of the Mean Green’s new 30,000-seat on-campus stadium under way.
Increasingly, major college athletic programs have gone to their students, a movement the University of Hawaii-Manoa is a late arrival to as it contemplates becoming the last school in the nine-member WAC to implement such a fee.
A proposal to assess Manoa students $50 per semester, raising nearly $2 million a year for UH’s financially challenged athletic program, is on the Board of Regents’ Thursday agenda.
But unlike UNT, where students voted 58.1 percent to 41.9 percent to accept the fee, UH is asking the regents to impose the fee, which has consistently been opposed by Associated Students of UH leaders.
"ASUH is strongly opposed to the proposed athletic fee because of the unclear process of student consultation, the timing of the proposal and the lack of student support for the fee," ASUH president Andrew K. Itsuno said in an e-mail.
WHAT OTHERS OFFER
What some other schools provide in exchange for student athletic fees:
Boise State ($101 per semester):
Louisiana Tech ($10 per semester):
San Jose State ($77.50 per semester):
North Texas ($10 per semester unit):
Utah State ($123.22 per semester):
WHAT UH IS PROPOSING
Here is what the athletic department is offering students in exchange for a $50 per semester athletic fee:
» Free student seating areas at UH athletic events at Aloha Stadium, the Stan Sheriff Center and Murakami Stadium. At Aloha Stadium, for example, plans call for 5,000 seats for students.
» Five percent of the collected fees, approximately $100,000 per year, will be used to support activities for students, including transportation, tailgate events, increased access to facilities for recreation and prize giveaways.
» Require the athletic department to host "a free concert or other event responsive to student interests during the school year."
The UH athletic department has made several presentations to a series of ASUH committees without a student vote. But Itsuno said 77 percent of the students who responded to an ASUH survey last year "opposed the fee."
Last year two campus committees split on whether a $50 fee should be imposed. The Campus Fees Committee recommended against the fee, according to the Chancellor’s office, while the Athletic Advisory Board supported the fee.
But after nearly two years of overseeing the battle and ordering changes, Manoa Chancellor Virginia S. Hinshaw has forwarded this proposal to the regents.
"I have listened and thought about this decision during this time, weighing the pros and cons, and waited to see if other proposals came forward," Hinshaw told the students in an e-mail. "I have received only the fee proposal from athletics and, during this time, they have definitely improved the oversight and tangible benefits for students related to the fee. So, although this is a difficult decision, I believe that it is time to move forward on this fee."
Itsuno said, "Due to the situation we have been placed in, we were forced to negotiate with the administration and the athletic department to come to an agreement that would provide the best benefit for the students in order to make the most out of an unfavorable situation in an event the athletics fee proposal were to pass."
Hinshaw said the proposed $50 fee, if approved, will begin in January with the spring 2011 semester and will go to help underwrite "scholarships, travel and subsistence, materials and supplies, and other expenses directly beneficial to student-athletes, but not on compensation and benefits for the staff."
In return Hinshaw said:
» The athletic department will set aside free student seating areas for home UH athletic events at Aloha Stadium, the Stan Sheriff Center and Murakami Stadium. At Aloha Stadium, for example, plans call for 5,000 seats for students.
» Five percent of the collected fees, approximately $100,000, Hinshaw said, will go to support activities for students, including, "transportation, tailgate, increased access to facilities for recreation and prize giveaways."
» The athletic department will host "a free concert or other event responsive to student interests during the school year."
But Itsuno said, "students already pay a fee to the campus center to hold free concerts" and wonder, "why should students be taxed twice for the same benefit?"
Many students oppose the fee, ASUH officials have said, because they do not believe the students should have to "bail out" athletics.
Student fees would be a major boost for an athletic department that closed its eighth year of deficit spending in nine years June 30 with a deficit of approximately $2 million. Since 2002, athletics has built an accumulated net deficit of more than $10 million.
Chuck Neinas of Neinas Sports Services, a Colorado-based athletic consulting firm, and a former Big Eight commissioner, said, "most (major) colleges have some form of athletic fee."
Asked if UH could expect to be competitive without such a fee, Neinas said, "no."
Hinshaw said student support "… is critically important in the area of gender equity because most of our Wahine sports programs — our terrific softball team, for example — need such support to thrive since such sports generate limited income."
Approximately 500 students take part in intercollegiate athletics on the Manoa campus.
Itsuno said ASUH took issue with the timing of Thursday’s regents meeting, saying, "ASUH has requested numerous times that the administration present the athletic fee proposal to the BOR in September instead of July so that more students could voice their opinions, however, Chancellor Hinshaw has remained adamant about presenting the athletic fee proposal to the BOR during July when the majority of students are away for the summer and are unable to provide input."
Hinshaw said, "A strong, successful athletics program magnifies UH-Manoa’s message — a wonderfully positive message — throughout Hawaii and beyond. That visibility is important to all of us as members of this campus."
Lindsay McCluskey, vice president of the U.S. Student Association in Washington, D.C., said student fees in several areas, including athletics, have become more prevalent as university funding has declined.
"We are definitely opposed to any kind of assessment on students, in this case for athletics," McClauskey said.
Students at several California state schools have recently voted down student fee proposals, only to have them overridden and fees implemented by university presidents at San Diego State and Fresno State.
But at UNT student body president Kevin Sanders said, "The fee here … was a hot topic for a good amount of time, but once the students attained the proper information regarding the fee, it was accepted."
Sanders said, "We believe the fee will, indeed pay dividends not only for our athletics department but also for the university as a whole."