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Athletic fees & how they differ

By Mark Cochran and Zach Griffin

At the end of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) 2014 football season, president Ray Watts announced that the school would be abandoning the football program due to rising costs. This sparked a huge outcry from fans in the area and within six months the decision was reversed. UAB football returned in time for the 2017 season.

One major factor in the reversal was due to a student-led vote to increase the athletic fee by $25 per semester. Over 30 percent of the undergraduate population showed up to cast their vote on the topic and a whopping 84 percent voted yes!

Athletics, football specifically, are a huge deal in campus life in the south and this is a prime example. Athletic fees, generally, are fees levied on students that help pay for resources such as facilities, coaches, and equipment for intercollegiate athletic teams. The amount that students pay at these schools varies, and that depends on factors such as the size of the school and the amount of revenue that is brought in from other sources like high ticket sales and generous donations from fans and alumni.

For larger schools like the University of Georgia or the University of Alabama, one might think it would be more expensive for students to enjoy football. However, they would be mistaken. Georgia and Alabama have some of the lowest athletic fees of any major university. Georgia’s athletic fee for the current academic year is only $53 per semester, while Alabama has not had one since 2008.

Due to the popularity and high demand for tickets at both of these athletic programs, football tickets are not free for students. But they aren’t all that expensive either. Both Alabama and Georgia charge students in between $50-$70 per season for a full season of home games. Overall, it only costs students around $100 to enjoy the highest level of athletic events.

However, students at smaller schools are not as lucky. At institutions such as Georgia Southern, Georgia State and UAB, the cost of the athletic fees averages $225 per student per semester. This average is over 75 percent higher than the combined fees at Georgia and Alabama. Even if one factors in the cost of football tickets with the fees, the total average cost of attending Georgia and Alabama football games would only be $89. Though all sports are free for students to attend (including football) at universities such as UAB and Georgia Southern, the fees are far greater.

So why is there such a remarkable difference between athletic fees among bigger and smaller schools? The answer can be seen in the amount of revenue schools like Georgia and Alabama receive from other various sources like contributions from alumni, licensing agreements, merchandise, television contracts and ticket sales.

When comparing the combined revenue of the four richest athletics programs in Alabama and Georgia (Alabama, Georgia, Auburn, and Georgia Tech) to the revenue of the six schools underneath them (UAB, Troy, Jacksonville State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Kennesaw State), the results are lopsided.

The athletics revenue for the four big universities totals over $500 million while that of the six smaller schools is a little over $150 million.

These larger schools don’t need athletic fees nearly as much due to higher licensing revenue and greater ticket sales. For example, the University of Georgia made over $56 million in rights and licensing revenue, which includes television contract negotiations and corporate sponsorships among other things, in 2016. That amount alone is nearly $25 million more than Georgia Southern’s entire 2016 athletic revenue! They make so much money that the high cost of running a football program is not an issue. For other schools, however, it can be.

Football programs are extremely expensive. Between the equipment, staff and facilities, universities are shelling out millions of dollars. They are not able to recoup the cost with revenue alone, so they turn to the students to help back the programs.

One of the prime examples of this is Georgia State. Georgia State’s student fees are among the highest in the nation. As of 2016, students are paying over $275 per semester in athletic fees. That’s nearly $220 more than what UGA students pay per semester.

This remarkable difference highlights the circumstances of the two schools. With so much demand for tickets, merchandise and other pieces of the program, the University of Georgia doesn’t need to ask its students for much help financing athletics.

The bottom line is this: student fees are far more valuable to smaller, lower profile schools than their larger counterparts. If students attend a school that is not affiliated with having a premier athletics department, then they will probably be asked to pay a significant amount more than their buddies at universities such as Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.

After UAB shut down their football program, there was a demand to bring it back. Although UAB couldn’t rely on robust ticket sales and generous donations, their students were willing to pay the price to bring their team back. It serves to be an important example of the value that athletics fees can have for some schools. To them, higher athletic fees are worth it in the end.

Information in this story comes from USA Today’s 2015-16 NCAA Finances report, AL.com, chronicle.com, The Atanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and The Red & Black.