Big Vote: Miner Students Vote on Major Athletics Initiative

UTEP already has incredible facilities like the new Foster-Stevens Basketball Center. What could Bob Stull do with $7 million more a year? via www.briankanofphoto.com

Miner students are voting this week on the "Student Life and Athletic Enhancement Initiative."   The initiative will create a new fund for athletic expenses but requires tuition increases for all of UTEP's students.  If the initiative passes, UTEP athletic director Bob Stull could have $5 million more to play in 2012 and $7 million more in 2013.  Of course the burden lies with students who will be asked to pay $240 more in tuition next year and $360 more total in Fall 2013.  This vote has major implications for students and the athletic department alike.

Stull told KFOX ,"For us, it gives us a little more stable form of revenue that all the universities in the UT system have. We’re the only school that does not have an athletic fee."  That's true.  Currently UTEP students pay a "Student Services Fee."  A portion of that fee goes to athletics.  UTEP athletics received just under $5,000,000 of "direct institutional support" last year.  The student services fee will not be reduced.  Rather, it will go entirely to student services (think student organizations, events, some campus improvements).

There is a delicate balance at play here.  Athletics are obviously important to every university.  Scholarship athletes often bring diversity and unique perspectives to the classroom.  Nothing can unite a university community more than athletic success.  When UTEP is winning, especially in football, UTEP students burst with pride.

On the other hand, college is very expensive and at UTEP a vast majority of students pay their own way, either by working or through financial aid (think Stafford loans).  UTEP has not been immune to skyrocketing tuition costs and fees that have hit Texas' public universities since the state legislature deregulated tuition increases.  The legislature granted tuition-setting authority to public university governing boards in 2003.  Between 2003 and 2007, the average tuition at public universities rose 58%.  Fifty-Eight Percent. 

Again, UTEP is not immune.   In Fall 2004, a student taking 15 hours paid $2,324 in tuition.  In 2009, that number is up to $3,111 (roughly $3,800 with mandatory fees). 

The Miner fan in me (I'm not paying it!) is thrilled at the possibilities of what the athletic department could do with that kind of money.  UTEP's facilities, through diligent Stull work, are already among the best in the conference.  The new money could be used to keep coaches around and reward hard-working assistants that often make far less than you would ever imagine. 

The student in me, is skeptical of anything that results in increased debt for new Miner graduates.  $12 a credit hour doesn't sound bad at all.  But when you do the math, you realize that it could easily add $1,500 more in total cost to a student who finishes in 4 years. 

Does UTEP Need the Money?

We're constantly told that UTEP is a "have not" in the college football world.  C-USA doesn't have a great TV deal.  UTEP isn't in a BCS conference.  But, when you take a look at athletic revenue for other C-USA schools, you'll see that UTEP isn't exactly begging on the streets for a cup of hot soup.  Keep in mind that these numbers are according to the NCAA revenue database over at the Indy Star.  Also remember that some schools aren't required to report, so SMU and a few others are gone.

Athletic Revenue For C-USA Schools

Conference USA Athletic Dept. Revenue
Memphis 24,289,381
Houston 22,648,933
Central Florida 22,089,418
UTEP 21,325,408
East Carolina 21,128,219
UAB 18,784,112
Southern Miss 18,246,484
Marshall 16,323,459

 

Here's a look at UTEP's revenue compared to other schools of note.

Other Schools Athletic Dept. Revenue
NMSU 12,856,712
Boise State 16,693, 080
UTEP 21,325,408
New Mexico 27,594,982
Texas 89,651, 682

 

So, as we can see, the money isn't a life or death thing for the UTEP athletic department.  It would be really, really nice though.  Adding $7 million to the coffers puts UTEP on par with the MWC's New Mexico Lobos despite the fact that the MWC has a much more profitable TV deal.  UTEP would also instantly become the richest kid in the C-USA.  I can't imagine SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, or Rice are generating more than Memphis with their terrible attendance in football. Stull told KTSM:

"We're aspiring to be a tier one institution and so we're not asking to take tremendous, huge jumps," Stull said. "Any increase is always hard to swallow for anybody, but I think its just a fact of life, things become more expensive."

I have to admit that I'd like to hear a little more about the urgency of this initiative.  The economy is obviously not doing well now.  I'd like to hear Stull address why UTEP can't bring this measure up in two years.  That said, I get his point.  Travel for UTEP teams from El Paso to Huntington or Orlando has to be expensive and I'm sure those rates increase substantially annually.  I'm not sold that Tony Barbee would have stayed at UTEP, even if we would have matched his $1.5 million a year from Auburn, but obviously we increase the likelihood of keeping and attracting other top coaches when we offer a competitive salary per the market.

The Right Way

I give UTEP credit for going about the issue the right way. Back in February, when the Rush just launched, UTEP students were taken back by a vote that they felt was scheduled without adequate notice or time for protest.  In response to student unease, the administration delayed the vote until this week.  They university has also hosted three public discussion forums for students to learn more about the fee and to voice any opposition.  Now, its election day.

My Take

I hope it passes, but I'm not going to campaign for it.  Nor will I be upset if it doesn't pass.

I trust the students at UTEP to do what they feel is right.  If the initiative passes, I'll be incredibly happy because the money will allow UTEP to take a major step forward athletically.  Teams not named football and mens basketball will undoubtedly benefit from the new funds.  UTEP could pay administrative and support staff a more competitive wage.  If students reject it, I will completely understand.  As someone who has more than his fair share of student loan debt, I don't blame anybody for wanting to limit theirs either.  As the above charts show, UTEP will still have the resources to stay competitive with rivals in and out of the C-USA regardless of passage. 

Plus, if Paydirt Pete wants it, it can't be that bad.  Right?

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