Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hey UNCG sports fans

North Carolina offers its residents some great sports bargains. This year NC fans could buy Carolina Panthers football season tickets for as little as $390, Charlotte Bobcats basketball season tickets for as little as $344, or Carolina Hurricanes hockey season tickets for as little as $516. Granted, these bargain prices only cover the teams' nose-bleed seats, but a bargain is a bargain--and nobody is forced to buy a pro sports ticket.

The same can't be said of NC's collegiate sports, including at my own institution, where students are offered quite a different bargain.

As part of the cost of attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, each full-time undergraduate and graduate student is compelled to pay an annual athletic fee of $622. For in-state undergrads, the mandatory athletic fee accounts for 10 percent of the total tuition and fees charged by UNCG. Students have no choice in the matter--if they want to pursue an education at UNCG, the $622 annual athletics charge is added to the price of admission.

UNCG's mandatory athletic fee has grown at a brisk clip of 7.1% per year over the last six years--a rate that's nearly four times the growth of inflation. The University has jacked up the fee despite a recession that has hurt students' ability to pay for college, even faster growth in tuition and other fees that have raised the cost of schooling, and crushing loads of student debt that leave graduates struggling to make ends meet long after they've left the campus.

The fee subsidizes boondoggles big (the men's basketball team moving from the on-campus Fleming Gym to the off-campus Greensboro Coliseum) and small (distribution of free tickets for a "faculty and staff appreciation day"). But these--outrageous though they are--are largely beside the point.

UNCG claims that these fees are an investment that will eventually "increase the proportion of the athletics budget funded by ticket sales, other revenues, and gifts by alumni and friends of UNCG" and enhance "the undergraduate experience."

However, students have gotten a poor return, as the "investment" has not paid off in any of the promised dimensions.
  • Not in terms of athletic revenues. In 2007-8, UNCG's net athletic sales and service revenues were $891,000. By 2011-2, net athletic sales and service revenues were actually lower at $882,000
  • Nor gifts. In 2007-8, UNCG received a total of $13.4 million in gifts; by 2012-3, gifts were down to $8.4 million.
  • Nor student enrollments. From Fall 2007 to Fall 2013, UNCG FTE student enrollments inched up a mere 1.9 percent. By way of contrast, FTE student enrollment across the UNC system rose 6.9 percent.
And the student share of support is going the wrong way. Currently, student fees pay for 82% (about five out of every six dollars) of UNCG's athletic spending. In 2007-8, students were only covering 78% (about three out of every four dollars) of athletic spending and paying for one additional Division I sport.

UNCG is now facing an acute and severe budget crisis brought on by missed enrollment targets and reductions (compounding years of earlier reductions) in state funding. Draconian cuts are being proposed across the University, including cuts on the order of 25 percent of the library's already slim acquisitions budget.

A high-priced athletics program is a luxury that neither the University nor its students can afford. It's long past time that students got a new bargain.