USF Athletics And Student Fee Welfare

We didn't talk too much about student athletic fees on Monday. USF students are responsible for a significant portion of the athletic budget, but we view the fees as kind of a necessary evil right now.

Still, it's kind of dismaying to see students contributing fully one-third of the entire budget in fees. (This is still an improvement over five years ago, when they contributed a shocking 45%.) Even more dismaying to see Athletics going back to them for yet another fee increase this spring, and getting it. As of the 2011-12 school year, students will pay $14.15 per credit hour in athletics fees, which is more than they pay in activity and service fees for themselves.

Since Woolard took over as athletic director in 2004, the athletics fee has increased from $9.08 per credit hour to $14.15 -- an increase of 36%. In 2010-11 alone, the fees increased by $1.97 per credit hour, thanks to a one-time opportunity by the state that allowed the three student fees (Activity and Service, Athletic, and Student Health Service) to increase by a total maximum of 15% instead of the usual 5%.

Remember that table we did with the comparison of each school's athletic budget to the percentage tied up in the athletic director's salary? What would happen if we removed the student fees each Big East school receives and ran the numbers again, to see how much each AD earns based on the money the department generates for itself?

We'll have to leave out Syracuse and Pittsburgh since they are not required to report student fees as non-public universities. As for the rest... well, now USF looks a lot worse.

School

Athletic Budget (2009-10)

Student Fee Contribution (2009-10)

Non-Student Fee Athletic Budget

Athletic Director Salary (2009-10)

AD Salary Percentage of Non-Student Fee Revenues

Cincinnati

$37,101,542

$0*

$37,101,542

$301,716

0.81%*

Connecticut

$58,482,290

$8,626,506

$49,855,784

$351,717

0.71%

Louisville

$63,487,394

$1,929,017

$61,558,377

$740,908**

1.20%

Rutgers

$55,564,642

$8,441,092

$47,123,550

$420,729

0.89%

USF

$39,190,939

$13,026,289

$26,154,650

$434,608

1.66%***

West Virginia

$62,030,104

$4,102,845

$57,927,259

$390,000

0.67%

* - On Twitter, Matt from Down the Drive admitted this $0 is not true. But our math says that in order for Mike Thomas's percentage to have exceeded Woolard's percentage, the student fees would have to be at least $18,157,228 -- nearly half of Cincinnati's entire athletic budget.

** - Jurich's 2009-10 salary was probably a little lower than this, which would make their percentage a bit lower.

*** - Considering Woolard's salary went up by 13% between May 2010 and now, his percentage might be even higher now.

We realize student fees are currently the easiest way to generate money for athletics, because there aren't too many other levers to pull. The television deal is horrible (for now), ticket sales are still subject to the whim of the public, and for whatever reason the move to a new conference hasn't inspired a bunch of new athletic donations. Here's a thought -- maybe there should be more money spent on cultivating new donors instead of borderline wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on expensive billboards and marketing campaigns. Fans have already proven they show up if the team is winning, whether you tell them to or not. Growing the donor base is a much more stable way of increasing revenue than depending on the fickle Tampa Bay sports fan.

And the way these athletics fee increases are being asked for is concerning. Here's a passage from the minutes of a meeting of the A&S, Athletic, and SHS Fee Committee on January 25, 2011, recounting the impact of the 2010-11 increase:

"Mr. Doug Woolard, Athletic Director, spoke to the $1.97 per credit hour allocation to Athletics last year. He noted that funds were utilized for the increased demand for scholarships (which increases as tuition increases), the increase in medical insurance for student athletes, the hiring of an Assistant Athletic Trainer, the increased costs of Raymond James Stadium rent, Title 9 initiatives and expenses, the soccer stadium construction project, and resurfaced tennis courts. Mr. Woolard noted that the increased revenues from the fees still did not meet the increased expenses that Athletics faced."

And also this amazing quote, from the minutes of the May 10, 2010 meeting in the same link as above:

Mr. Woolard said that USF only gets $12.4 million in student fees, where UCF gets $16 million, FGCU ($15.71M) and FAU ($16.45M). The entire 15% allocation, if awarded to Athletics, would still not bring them up to a similar funding model.

So hang on. Am I reading this right? Are we aspiring to get even MORE money out of the students? Does he want to go back to the day when 45% of the athletics budget was student fees? If nothing else, Woolard is going with the rarely-persuasive "Well, at least we're not as bad as those other guys!" explanation.

Doesn't that sound like Woolard is using the students as a backstop? Only one of those projects -- the soccer stadium -- is something that will be clearly noticeable by students. And while it's nice to have a new stadium with locker rooms instead of tents set up on the track, soccer was not nearly as bad off as sports like baseball and softball were when it came to facilities. If this is how it actually sounded coming out of his mouth, this is really the wrong way to ask for money. Instead of treating the athletics fee as a privilege and working to build support from the students to use them, Woolard sounds like he thinks the students are some kind of ATM machine that he can get more money out of any time he needs it.

By the way, and we agree it is apples to oranges... but the per credit fee at the University of Florida? A $1.90 per credit hour. And I can hear USF's administration saying, "But they have to pay for football tickets!!" Yes they do. $105 for the season, and obviously that only affects those that actually care to attend. Do the math, and you tell me who's getting the better deal. Believe me, that's a trade every USF student would take seven days a week and twice on Sunday.

It's impossible to say where USF is heading, with potentially another round of chaotic conference expansion and drastic upheaval. They may not even end up with a seat at the BCS table when it ends, which would be a disaster. But if they keep their place and a new television deal for whatever conference they're in puts a bunch of extra money in their pockets, Woolard and the athletic department need to pull away from student fees as a prime source of their budget. The goal should be to become as self-sufficient as possible, and not to keep lining their pockets with the students' money when they might not even need it anymore.

Especially when it appears absolutely none of that money is filtering down to the worker bees of the athletics staff. More on that later.

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