Student Senate pushes Athletic Dept. to lower athletics fee

By Katie Gardner
On February 19, 2013

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The Student Senate unanimously voted on Sunday night to request that the UNH Athletic Department change how it uses the student athletics fee so that students see more of a return on what they pay. Student Activity Fee Committee Chair Bryan Merrill proposed the resolution, saying he believes that either the fee should be lowered or UNH students should receive more for their money. 

"You either lower the burden on UNH students or you increase the benefits," he said at the senate meeting. 

For fiscal year 2013, students were required to pay a $954 athletics fee. The fee was recently approved for a 3 percent increase for fiscal year 2014, raising it to $983. Currently, the mandatory fee only covers tickets to sporting events. If a student went to every single game for every sport, it would be a value of $675. Merrill calculated, however, that the average student goes to five football games and 10 hockey games, which only uses about $220 of the fee.

"The Athletic fee has been a topic of interest and concern, not only for the Student Senate, but also for the university and the Athletic Department, for years," Mark Rubinstein, vice president of student and academic services, said in an email. "Among the challenges are that athletics is not a pure 'auxiliary' like Campus Recreation or Dining (and this is true at virtually every college and university in the country that participates in intercollegiate athletics, particularly at "Division I" level) and that the value to students and to the university is not exclusively a function of attending events, but also includes the goodwill and positive regard that successful and well-run programs generate for the institution and for our students and alumni."

The athletics department uses the remaining money to fund the program as well as pay for the scholarships that student athletes receive and maintain a good image as a Division 1 school. The members of the Student Senate do not find this to be fair to students, but Athletic Director Marty Scarano said that it's necessary. 

"Whether it's fair or not is not for me to say, but if we didn't have the fee then there wouldn't be an athletic program," he said.

According to Scarano, $26 million per year is needed to fund the athletics program, and cutting down the fee at all would put it in debt. He said he is sympathetic to students and understands that it is a lot of money. 

"The cost is expensive," he said. "There's no denying that." 

Scarano said that the athletic department is currently working to find out what is of value to students so that they can get more for their money. Merrill is working with them to create an athletic think tank to generate ideas that will give students more benefits. 

"Increasing value will be much easier than cutting costs," Merrill said.

Merrill said he hopes something can be done because it's not fair to students to have to pay for something that doesn't affect them. The resolution will now be brought to Scarano, UNH President Mark Huddleston and the Board of Trustees. Merrill believes that change will happen immediately, although it will be small.

The Student Senate business manager, William McKernon, also had ideas about the likeliness of changes.

"Unless there is a major change in alumni relations, I don't anticipate the cost going down," McKerson said, adding that he believes the value and benefits will increase.

The Student Senate Public Relations Manager, Al Pace, is not so sure that change will be so easy. 

"I think that it will be difficult to see any direct change come out of this resolution, as it is more of a wake-up and call to action for both athletics and students," Pace said. He said he hopes that students become aware of how this issue is affecting them.

Merrill, McKernon and Pace all agreed that as of right now most students don't know that their money is being used in this way. Many students are aware that there is a fee, but they don't know how it is broken down. 

"It's really a shock factor because they don't know," McKernon said.

The student senators said they are working hard to resolve this issue without causing any new ones. 

"We're not trying to create a divide between students and athletics," Merrill said. He went on to say that they are not trying to put down the program, but that they want to do what's right for the students. "We're trying to close the gap between the value realized and the amount we pay into it." 

According to Rubinstein, the efforts of the athletic department regarding this issue have been evident. 

"Throughout Athletic Director Scarano's tenure at UNH, he and his staff have worked hard both to control costs and to find ways to increase the value that students associate with this fee," he said. " ...In that regard, this resolution - that asks Athletics to either reduce costs further or improve students' perception of value - is perfectly timed."

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