Athletic Fee

"On a December day inside of Oswego State’s Laker Hall student, Larissa Mapes takes a break from studying for her finals to wrap an athlete’s ankle and help her computer-challenged boss send an e-mail. She works as student athletic trainer in the school’s sports medicine office. The office itself, like the rest of Laker Hall where Oswego State’s athletic program is housed, has a Spartan appearance, with few decorations beside the plush, green medical tables and utilitarian florescent lighting.

"Mapes said hockey is the sport with the highest number of injuries she has attended to while working there the past two years. Soccer players are next on her list of most injured; the sport she pinpoints as having the fewest injuries would be tennis. Mapes’ annual salary, in the thousands of dollars, is paid out of the school’s athletic budget.

"Oswego State students pay nearly $180 to the school’s athletic department each semester to finance that budget. The fee is also mandatory, meaning even those who might want to back out and pinch pennies as total core tuition rises cannot do so.

"The revenue from the fee makes up most of the Athletic Department’s operating budget, Athletic Director Tim Hale said. He said the fee gives back to students who are not athletes by paying for athletic events that every student can attend. One example he cited was the award-winning men’s ice hockey team, which plays on campus roughly 15 times a year to more than 1,000 students in a new ice arena, according to Hale.

""That’s a lot of entertainment," Hale said. "That’s a tremendous turnout for the entire student population."

"About 8,000 students are enrolled at Oswego State, according to the college website, meaning about one in every seven students will appear at a given men’s hockey game.

"Hale said the Athletic Department’s budget has three major categories. The largest portion comprises personnel salaries. Coaches who work full time and assistant coaches who work part time see their pay come from this piece of the budget. The department has little ability to decrease pay or non-monetary compensation, making it hard to cut costs there, Hale said. That is because of regulations set by SUNY’s leaders in Albany.

""Forty-eight point three eight percent of any salary is fringe benefits, which we have no control over," Hale said.

"The second biggest category in the department’s budget pays for the salaries of student workers, such as Mapes. Student personnel also fulfill duties in other support functions, such as Laker’s laundry room.

"Hale said after becoming director he was surprised to learn that the department’s budget allocates the smallest number of funds to a category dubbed "other than personnel." This section covers all the tangibles associated with sports, such as balls, pucks, referees, uniforms and travel expenses. Fewer dollars are spent on these items than any others in the department’s budget. The school’s website, however, where students will get their information about the fee they are billed, only mentions items from this third, smallest category when describing the fee:

""This fee is charged to all undergraduate students to support intercollegiate athletics. The fee provides direct support to teams (uniforms, meals, housing, officials, equipment, etc). The fee is not a user fee," states the website. It also makes it clear that the fee does not provide money for, "intramural [sports] and recreation, club sports or the fitness centers."

"For the past few years the department has given a share of its budget to Campus Recreation, the department that organizes intramural sports and activities for students on campus. This year the department gave nearly $110,000, Hale said.

"Hale said the majority of the department’s budget is made up of the money students pay in fees each semester. The school defends that nearly $180 amount by saying, through its website, "it is our feeling everyone benefits from the success of our teams and their contributions to the colleges reputation and recognition."

"Comparatively, Buffalo University only finances 27 percent of their athletics program through student fees, gaining far more, about 41 percent of the total budget, from support from the college itself, according to a database compiled by USA Today. That institution, however, is larger, and pulls in $7 million just through the student fees alone. Other sources of revenue for both Oswego and Buffalo include sporting event ticket sales as well as advertising at events. Advertising accounts for more than $850,000 of Buffalo’s budget, or 3.3 percent, according to the database.

"The fee system, where students pay for athletics as part of their tuition payment, was not always the norm. Mike Howard coaches Oswego State’s wrestling and golf teams, and has been involved with the athletics department for 25 years. He said the fee system has been a big improvement since it came into effect in the 1980s.

"Howard shared one vivid memory of funding before the student fee. He remembers March of 1987, when teams were advancing to conference finals, but there was talk of not having the money needed to send them forward. The teams then received partial support from Oswego’s Student Association and coaches had to justify spending to student senators. That March, Howard was part of a group begging for funding at an SA meeting when it appeared most of the budget had already been spent. When the student athletic fee came along, it replaced this system of financing, which was often unstable, Howard said.

""Every year a new administration would come in, and every year you would have to defend your money," Howard said. "The fee has certainly been a good thing for the sports."

"Still, Howard believes there are some gaps in the way the fee is allocated.

""Our operating budget, I would say it is adequate," Howard said. "We are underfunded when it comes to what it takes to have a sufficient staff."

"Howard said he would like to see more assistant coaches hired for the wrestling program. He said the current pay for wrestling’s assistant coach is a paltry sum. According to Howard, the money given to staff that position has not increased in 22 years, when he held the job.

""It’s barely enough to cover the guy’s gas to get up here," Howard said.

"Before the fee system was put into place, New York’s Legislature allocated more money for campus sports within the SUNY system. That’s one drawback to the student-paid fee, said James Scharfenberger, Oswego State’s dean of students. Because students took on more of the cost of campus athletics more directly, it allowed the state to pull most of its support for the sports.

""There was a general desire to reduce the state commitment," Scharfenberger said. "That’s why they instituted these broad-based fees."

"For now, Hale is looking at ways to cut costs and generate more revenues in the athletic department. Ticket sales are being targeted to raise more money for the department; season ticket offers for basketball games were just one of a few packages Hale said the department was working on.

"Advertisements also contribute to the budget, and in the near future spectators may begin to see video ads on the scoreboard at hockey games, according to Hale. One place that money is not going to come from is program advertisements at men’s hockey games. Hale said those just pay for the cost of printing programs.

"Coaches already have wish lists for what they would do with the extra funds. Michael Holman, coach of the swimming team, said his team is adequately funded, given the state of the economy, but there’s always room for more.

""Right now we are fairly limited in how much we can travel," Holman said.

"Corinne Brown said team members were already contributing $300 for a trip to a meet in Florida this winter. Brown, 23, is an unpaid assistant coach for the team. She is also a student studying marketing at the college.

""Considering I use the fee, I don’t have a problem," Brown said. "But for people who don’t, I could see how it is annoying and stupid. Every time you see a free sports event you should think about that being your money."

"In the end, Holman said it’s about how the fee money was divided up.

""I don’t think anyone is greedy," Holman said. You have to work with what you’ve got—sometimes it’s on a shoestring."