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By the Numbers: A Look at Frostburg State’s Athletics Fee and its Impact

Creating a budget for the new fiscal year is often an arduous and complicated process that can take anywhere from a year to a year and a half in advance to create. Aside from tuition, students at Frostburg State University are also required to pay what are designated as mandatory fees. Among these fees is the athletics fee.

At a current cost of $822 a year, the athletics fee is the highest and fastest growing fee within the last five years. In the past five years, athletic fees have increased an average of $49.6 per year. The projected athletic fee cost for the 2016 fiscal year is $862.

For the 2015-16 academic year, the fee generated $3,539,996, according to figures provided by David Rose, FSU’s vice president for administration and finance.  Aside from what are routinely termed as alumni dollars, the athletics fee collected by students single handedly supports the athletics department financially, supplementing everything from playing surfaces (such as the main arena floor and turf), to the uniforms, travel fees, and the salaries of various personnel within the department.

By comparison, Salisbury University’s athletics fee is $710 for full time undergraduates. “Salisbury’s budget for athletics is larger than ours, because they have more students,” Rose explained.

The University of Maryland College Park’s athletics fee is “significantly lower” than FSU’s – only $203.19 – because the Terrapins get television contracts, endorsements, and shared revenue from the Big 10 Athletic Conference, Rose said.

While many question the need for an athletics fee, the justification is simple: without an athletics fee, the athletics department would cease to exist. With around 500 enrolled in-state and out-of-state athletes, a lack of an athletics department would cause student athletes to look elsewhere for a college education and would significantly reduce Frostburg State’s revenue generated by tuition.

Athletic programs serve as valuable recruiting tools for universities, and this helps generate revenue for the university. “The input that you have to consider is the amount of students that come here to play athletics,” Rose said. “I would hate for our enrollment to take that kind of a dive.”

How the athletics budget is distributed. Data provided by David Rose.
How the athletics budget is distributed. Data provided by David Rose.

“If we didn’t have athletics, we would probably lose 95 percent of the students that participate,” Rose said. “Around 500 students” participate in athletics, and “about 450 of those students would go elsewhere if FSU didn’t have athletics.”

“If we didn’t have athletics, our [tuition] revenue would drop, which then would impact [the programs] we can offer,” he said. Rose added that if the university lost 450 students, tuition may increase for the students that did enroll.

Tuition for a full time, in-state student costs $6,214. If the university loses 450 student-athletes, it would lose at least $2.7 million in tuition revenue alone, and that’s not taking into account the higher tuition cost paid by out-of-state students – $18,314. Mandatory student fees would also generate over a million dollars from 450 students.

The university generates at least $7,537,500 from 450 students, when factoring in the cost of tuition, fees, room, and board. That’s over double the total cost of the athletics budget.

Whether or not the university would really lose 450 students by cutting athletics could be argued, but if the theory holds true, the university is, in a sense, doubling on its investment in athletics.

According to data provided by Dr. Sydney Duncan, associate provost and chair of the Middle States Committee, “52.5% of students view Intercollegiate Athletics as very important or important. 26.02% were neutral, 9.18% were not aware of this, and only 12.24% felt that this was somewhat unimportant or not important at all.”

University officials are always evaluating the value that athletic teams bring to the school, especially when talking about setting the university’s budget.

“Any discussion we have about how we meet our budget involves stuff like that,” Rose said. “Do we eliminate athletics completely? Do we eliminate several sports? Do we keep the sports we have and raise the fees? It’s all complicated.”

Rose pointed out that officials cut golf several years ago because there weren’t many students participating in it, and many were also involved with other sports. “It was one of those things where you had so little interest in it, it still costs the same to take them to the match whether there’s five people or twenty people,” he said. “You’re not getting the bang for the buck.”

A few years after that, the university added a men’s lacrosse team that has been quite successful. “We have around 45 people on the roster, that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” he said. “That generates tuition revenue for us. And the program has been successful.”

In order to entice more athletes to attend Frostburg and ensure that quality coaches and staff choose Frostburg State University, the department must continue to provide state-of-the-art facilities and services to its athletes.

In 2014, Bobcat Stadium became the newest addition to facilities on campus. The impressive stadium consists of a new four floor, 9,500 square foot press box and bleachers that hold 2,300 home spectators at full capacity. Construction, however, was made possible and paid for through auxiliary fees: a subsection included in the mandatory student fees; not through athletic fees.

With its imposing grey façade, Bobcat Stadium stands as a striking image to prospective students, athletes, and parents alike. “When people drive in from the interstate, it gives people a better picture of our school,” stated Ralph Brewer, associate English professor and former athletic director. The 2014-2015 season also saw the addition of a new athletic training clinic.

While it may seem like only those directly involved or connected to the athletics department receive the benefits of these new facilities, the impact of the department and associated structures, such as the stadium, provides more indirect benefits to all Frostburg students, particularly in the image it creates for FSU and the message it sends about the students that attend and the quality of education, services, and experiences provided.

One future project for the department is the expansion of the women’s team locker rooms. Other future projects for the department include addressing playing and practice surfaces, particularly the impending replacement of the current turf that was installed during the summer of 2006. The turf’s warranty is set at 10 years. “These are really maintenance pieces to me,” explained Tory Dell, athletic director, “in order to maintain what we’re doing.”

Much like many other areas on campus, maintaining a rapidly growing department and competing with other schools’ programs, in this case athletics, (both on the field and off) would simply not be possible without the revenue generated through mandatory fees.

Athletic programs in higher education are often criticized, but the sheer number of students – and the money they generate – cannot be understated.

Niki Folk contributed reporting to this story.

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