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Utah State considers raising student athletic fees

Published: Sunday, March 22 2009 10:52 p.m. MDT

LOGAN — Students at Utah State University could soon pay a lot more to support the school's athletics department.

Students will vote Monday and Tuesday whether to raise their annual athletics fees to $243, up from $113. The Utah State Board of Regents would also need to approve the increase.

The proposal is intended to help pull the athletics department out of the red. It is currently operating with an annual $2.3 million deficit.

Utah State Athletics Director Scott Barnes says all the school's sports are in financial crisis because the school didn't budget enough money for the transition to Western Athletic Conference membership four years ago.

"We've reached a tipping point," Barnes said. "We need to overhaul our funding model."

Students pay fees each semester, meaning an increase would translate into $65 extra each semester.

During the past two months, Barnes has visited campus groups to make the case for the increase. Overall, he said, the response has been positive.

"I've been pleasantly surprised," Barnes said.

However, differences over the proposal exist. A Facebook group titled "Say NO to an athletics fee increase at USU" had 214 supporters by Friday.

Founded by student Tyler Riggs, a KVNU radio host, the "Say NO" page includes a number of postings that argue against the boost, saying students are already hard-hit financially.

Others, such as Lance Brown, vice president for athletics in USU's student government, said financial support for the athletics department is needed, because it's a good investment.

He pointed to studies that show alumni donations, enrollment and a university's general prestige all go up with athletic success.

Many of the fee increase's detractors say improved ticket sales, donations and sponsorships should be sought before raising fees.

The athletics director countered that he has a plan for boosting self-generated revenue.

His staff is working on a new marketing plan for season tickets, and he has hired more sales workers. About 85 volunteers will contact 6,000 people for donations to the Big Blue Scholarship. In past years, they have gone to 1,000 or 1,500 individuals.

"As we talk about the plan, we continue to tell the students that we're not asking them to do this by themselves," he said. "We raised $1.1 million in private support for football salaries ... We increased our football gate revenue 100 percent last year."

Barnes added it is just not possible for USU to raise the kind of money that schools like Fresno State and the University of Utah can get with their larger venues, alumni bases and markets for tickets holders.

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