Arizona State’s new $150 student fee for athletics: Will the idea spread to Tucson?

Arizona State University’s athletic department is much more flush, now that president Michael Crow’s proposal to bring in an additional $10 million in funding from student fees has been approved during the Arizona Board of Regents Meeting.

Crow proposed every A.S.U. student pay a mandatory $150 athletics fee each year, regardless if the student goes to every home sporting event or has not attended a game in years. The board approved the president’s plan, and it will be enacted prior to the 2014-2015 school year beginning in August.

Not everybody is cheering.

“I don’t think it’s fair to students, especially the ones that don’t go to sporting events,” said Amanda Springer, a junior at Arizona State. Springer said she only goes to one or two football games each year and rarely watches basketball, baseball or softball.

Naturally, there has already been plenty of discussion on the merits of Crow’s plan. Some have already called the new influx of cash for the athletic department as a “game-changer.”

For an athletic department that has been in the red in recent years, the incoming money will provide much more flexibility for stadium enhancements, facility upgrades and new equipment. In the arms race that is collegiate athletics, every dollar helps when it comes to having the latest and greatest in athletics, the suporters of the new fee claim.

In previous years, Arizona State students had the option to purchase a pass to attend all sporting events. Crow’s plan will open up seating to all students, and seats will likely be chosen on a first-come, first-served basis. Crow recently told faculty members that the university’s current enrollment, including online-only students, is approaching 80,000.

Will Crow’s idea spread to other state campuses?

“They already make you contribute to a lot of other dumb stuff, so I guess it would be alright as long as it comes back to the students in some other way,” said Jason Harris, a recent graduate of Northern Arizona University who now works as a reporter at the Arizona Daily Star. “It would be nice if there was an option for the students to have options and decide if their money will go to athletics, the science department or something like that.”

Northern Arizona University does not charge students a fee to attend sporting events.

In Tucson, students at the University of Arizona do not have to pay a mandatory athletics fee, but there is speculation that one could be on the way if the returns on Crow’s plan prove to be positive. Currently, U.A. students have the option of purchasing a ‘Zona Zoo’ pass, which costs $110 or $150, depending on the membership type.

Photo: Scott Coleman, ASNS
Photo: Scott Coleman, ASNS

Last year, approximately 12,000 U.A. students purchased Zona Zoo memberships. There are 32,000 undergrad students enrolled at the university.

If the U.A. were to adopt a mandatory athletics fee for all undergraduates, the athletic department could receive an additional $4.8 million each year.

“As a sports fan I have no problem with the proposal,” said Kyle Johnson, a U.A. student. “I already spend right around that amount for tickets, and I know a steady and consistent income for the athletic department would help revenue forecasting and long-term projects.”

However, he added, “As a student, I think the plan has some major issues. It’s not a raise of just $20 or something. $150 is a lot of money, especially for someone with no interest in going to the games. I think it’s forcing an already lackluster fan base into being S.E.C.-level supporters. And that’s never a good idea.”

Johnson wasn’t the only one concerned with yet another line added onto his tuition statement each semester.

“We already pay so much for everything else,” said U.A. student Corey Leith. “It doesn’t seem fair to them to make us pay for our sports teams, even if we don’t have any interest in going to or watching the games.”

The mandatory athletics fee is becoming more and more popular on campuses around the country. A handful of Southeastern Conference schools, where football programs operate on enormous budgets, require their undergraduates to pay into athletic budgets. In addition to Arizona State, the University of Oregon has also adopted a similar fee structure for its students. The Ducks have seen their football program rise to a top-10 national power over the last five years, thanks in part to already major financial resources, bolstered by the backing of Nike founder and Oregon graduate Phil Knight.

Despite the campus speculation in Tucson, Greg Byrne, the U.A.’s director of athletics, said there will not be a mandatory athletics fee for students in the near future.

But if other Pac-12 programs follow in Arizona State’s footsteps, could that change sooner? After all, no one wants to be left behind in the arms race that is collegiate athletics.

“I guess if the fees really help out the university then I’m alright with it,” Leith said, “but I just feel like they should raise the money in some way other than digging into student’s bank accounts.”

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