Georgia State students pay some of the highest athletic fees in the country and a good chunk of those fund the university’s football program.
Earlier this year, the University System of Georgia’s (USG) Board of Regents instituted a policy placing a cap on the amount of money athletics programs can derive from student fees, a move designed to address concerns about the cost of college.
No more than 65 percent of a USG school’s athletic funding can come from student fees, according to the Board of Regents’ policy manual. The 2015 Athletics Revenue and Expenditures report shows that last year about 68 percent of Georgia State’s athletics funding came from student fees, three percent above the policy’s cap. Georgia State has four years to lower its sports subsidy in order to comply with the new policy.
As of this year, Georgia State’s annual athletic fees is $554 for students enrolled in six or more credit hours. It is only beat by Savannah State University’s $600 a year, which is financed by 4,900 students, according to Savannah State’s website. Tuition and fee breakdowns porivded by the UGA Bursar’s Office show that students pay an athletics fee of $106 dollars a year.
An article by the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Huffington Post last year found that Georgia State students paid close to $90 million in athletic fees between 2010 and 2015, “one of the highest contributions in the country”.
Mike Huckaby, Chancellor of the University System of Georgia, understands student concerns about the high athletics fee. He said the student fees are reviewed yearly by the Board of Regents, “an important responsibility that we take very seriously”.
“Part of my responsibility as chancellor is to be skeptical of all student fees. That is why the Board has to approve student fees, and we question all of them, including athletics fees,” he said.
These fees are in large part due to the addition of Panther football. A study carried out in 2006 by C.H. Johnson Consulting found that Georgia State would have to depend largely on student fees if a football team were to be financially viable, stating “the only practical model…available to fund the incremental expenses [of a football team] is an increase in student fees.”
The study concluded that football could not be supported by revenue and fundraising money alone. At the time of the study, the athletics fee was $284 a year. The introduction of the football team did lead to a fee increase, resulting in the current athletic fee of $557.
Tuition documents provided by Georgia State show that part of the increase came from the reallocation of other mandatory fees. SGA President Fortune Onwuzuruike said this is how all fee changes are handled. “Basically we’d need to increase athletic fees by two dollars and then decrease the library fee, for example.”
The athletics program continues to be subsidized by mandatory student fees. The athletic fee supports all Georgia State teams and football spending makes up about 25 percent of the Athletics Program’s $27.6 million, according to Athletics Director Charlie Cobb. He said the rest of the five men’s teams together are funded by 19 percent of the budget, while the 10 women’s team’s together take up another 25 percent. Sports services for all teams, such as administration, take up the last 31 percent.
Junior Katherine Hunter said she disapproves of the high athletic fee, citing the football program’s contribution to the fee hike.
“If they want us to pay this much in student fees, I don’t want it to go football. The money could be going elsewhere,” Hunter said. “Homecoming could be better if we put that money into the activity fee.”
Student Audrey Marime voiced similar concerns, saying,“My money is going to funding [players] to play this sport I don’t even play… [Spotlight] is more universal. Everybody’s going to want to do that.”
Spotlight plans many student events on campus. It is funded through the mandatory activities fee, which is $184 a year, less than half of the athletic fee. The student activity fee also funds all of the student-run organizations on campus.
The athletic fee supplements money brought in through fundraising. According to the Chronicle article, in 2014 the athletics department received $1.5 million in donations, of which $70,000 went to football.
Raising the athletic fee does not raise the entire price of mandatory fees, however, according to Georgia State University President Mark Becker who emphasized that “over the past seven years Georgia State has not increased the overall fee burden to students.”
The last time the overall mandatory student fees went up was in the 2011-2012 fiscal year from $814 to $1,064, according to the breakdowns of previous years’ tuition and fees available on the Student Financial Services website.
Is it worth it?
Georgia State senior Hunter Schumate said he thinks the athletic fee is too high but appreciates the football program’s potential to bring in money in the future.
“Georgia State football has a lot of potential simply because it’s in Atlanta. [The school] is trying to grow and pushing the football program really hard,” Schumate said. “They have tons of potential in terms of money and success.”
The Signal reported football attendance drop offs in 2013, only three years after the football program started. Two years later attendance was still low, with the Panthers having some of the lowest attendance in the Sun Belt Conference. The Sun Belt Conference itself had the second lowest attendance of the ten FBS conferences, according to NCAA attendance records.
Even if turnout was high, it is unlikely the athletic fee would be recouped by the University, as very few college athletics programs make a profit. The Delta Cost Project published a study in 2013 concluding that athletics are not effective as a financial boost. “Although some big-time college sports athletic departments are self-supporting…more often than not, the colleges and universities are subsidizing athletics, not the other way around.”
Chancellor Huckaby does see a future in the football program.
“The team and the program continue to develop and progress. Unlike my time as a student at Georgia State, football has become part of the student experience now, and I expect this will continue to grow just as Georgia State continues to advance as a leading urban research institution.”
President Becker maintains that the team benefits school spirit. “Before Georgia State started playing football it was uncommon to see students wearing Georgia State’s clothing, and school pride was considerably less than it is today. That literally changed with our first game in 2010.”
Student Zainab Babalola did not agree with this assessment. “People barely go to the games, especially football games because our team is awful.”
The future of the athletics fee has yet to be determined in the wake of the new USG policy, according to Associate Sports Communications Director Mike Holmes. Georgia State could comply with the policy by lowering the athletic fee or by raising revenue to bring the current fee spending below 65 percent. By adding enough revenue to enlarge the budget, the same amount of fee money could make up a smaller percentage.
Students do have the option to ask the SGA for fee changes, according to SGA President Fortune Onwuzuruike. “If there’s a need for students, administration will make the change, they won’t make any change not benefiting the students.”
The addition of Georgia Perimeter will not affect student athletic fees. Assistant Athletics Director for Compliance Erik Paz says the $80 Georgia Perimeter athletic fee pays for students’ entry into Georgia State games, and does not contribute to funding athletics teams. They therefore would not affect Georgia State athletics’ compliance with the new policy.
Holmes said commenting on whether the fee will change would be “inappropriate” at this point. “We’re still figuring out the details,” he said. “We’re exploring every option.”