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UNT students approve fee to fund proposed new stadium

University of North Texas students approved a new $10 per-semester hour athletic fee to help fund a proposed $60 million stadium that would not be completed before 2011, the university announced Saturday.

The school’s Web site reported that 2,829 students voted in favor of the athletic fee while 2,038 voted against the fee.

Fouts Field, the UNT football team’s home for 56 years, will eventually be torn down and converted to parking and other campus buildings, according to the school’s master plan. The new stadium will go up south of Interstate-35 East on the site of the old UNT golf course.

UNT’s Board of Regents and the Texas Legislature must approve the fee before being enacted. Both are expected to do so.

“We can move forward where a number of people can now get involved,” UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said earlier this week of larger donors or corporations getting involved in helping finance the stadium if the student fee were to pass. “We believe people will step up once the project is under way. Once we started the athletic center, we paid it off in 3 1/2 years.

“We don’t have a long history of [athletic] giving at this institution. But we believe people will step up [financially] in various stages and levels.”

Opposition to the fee, those who didn’t want any student-funding component to building a new stadium, gained momentum over the last month, in part due to the football team’s 0-6 start before Monday’s first day at the polls.

“Our university is not that well-known as an athletic institution,” said UNT student Joe McNulty, who led opposition to the fee. “It’s not what gives UNT its reputation. If we are going to raise fees, money could be better allocated. My personal preference would be to not raise student fees at all.”

UNT coach Todd Dodge said a new stadium is not only a good sell to recruit better football players, it’s something the university has gone without for too long.

“I’ve been asked about the lack of success of this year’s team having any bearing,” UNT coach Todd Dodge said prior to his team’s game Saturday at Louisiana-Monroe. “I don’t think it should have any bearing. This election for this stadium is not about [the 2008] team. It’s about this university and what’s gone on in the past and what will in the future.

“It’s not just about this team, but about this student body and the alumni. To be real honest, this university needed a new stadium about 15 years ago, bottom line.”

UNT still will have among the lowest student athletic fees in the Sun Belt Conference and in Texas, even smaller than Texas State’s, a Football Championship Division (I-AA) school that is increasing its fee from $10 per hour to $20 over the next five years.