Nothing can stir the blood of a university’s student body and its alumni more than a winning sports team. For alumni, there’s something special about wearing your team’s logo to work. For students, dressing in the school’s colors around campus helps build a sense of camaraderie.
Competing in college sports can be expensive. To contend on an elite level, coaches require seven-figure salaries. Recruits expect to train, and play, in multi-million dollar facilities. Still, there are programs that pull in big money with bigger donations, ticket sales and media deals.
But when Texas universities shore up financially struggling athletic programs by tacking higher athletic fees onto tuition bills, a penalty flag needs to be thrown. Students, many who will be faced with large loans upon graduation, should not be forced to subsidize athletics.
For some students, college sports is viewed as a luxury item. The money they are forced to shell out for basketball and football games they don’t have the time, or desire, to attend could be better spent on another class, books or food.
College administrators will argue that athletics can be an effective marketing tool, benefiting a university by boosting its profile and ultimately enrollment. They also say it can lead to more alumni engagement, which can bring in more donations. More alumni involvement also can translate into job placement for current students, a measure of a school’s success.
But on Sunday Star-Telegram writer Peter Dawson wrote that most of the NCAA Division I programs in Texas spent about $214 million during the 2016-17 school year to shore up their program’s losses, with students picking up about $100 million of the tab in bigger athletic fees.
At the University of Texas at Arlington that means a full-time student gets billed $230 a year. At the University of North Texas, a $300 fee is tacked on the tuition bill. Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi tacks on a whopping $653 to subsidize its sports programs.
Cheering for the hometown team shouldn’t come at such a high price, especially at a time when college students are drowning in debt.
In 2015, the average Texas college student graduated owing about $27,000, according to The Institute for College Access & Success.
Texas universities playing at these elite levels of sports need to either absorb athletic fees they’re charging students or cut their costs. While they are at it, they should look at the bigger picture and consider investing in better libraries, dorms or non-athletic faculty salaries.
College athletics can provide an identity that also builds a university’s financial foundation. But instead of asking students to foot the bill, universities need to come up with a better game plan.