North Texas Daily

UNT gradually increased student athletic fee and institutional support despite below-average athletic performance

UNT gradually increased student athletic fee and institutional support despite below-average athletic performance

April 14
00:10 2016

Reece Waddell | Senior Staff Writer


Student athletic fees at UNT have more than doubled in the last seven years, according to the NCAA Membership Financial Reporting System. In 2015, student fees and institutional support combined to equal $20,043,786.

If this amount was subtracted from the athletic department’s expenses, UNT would have been just over $20 million in debt last year.

Since 2008, the North Texas football team has had one winning season and has been under the direction of three different head coaches. Men’s basketball has failed to finish above .500 since hiring head coach Tony Benford in 2012 and had the third-lowest average home attendance in Conference USA in 2015.

As a result of the subpar performances in the higher revenue sports, UNT has steadily raised student fees and institutional support to fund athletics.

“I don’t look at [student fees] as a loss,” athletic director Rick Villarreal said. “I look at that as an investment in the university. I don’t try to justify anything. For me, it’s a program the university feels is valuable, so that’s why it has an athletics department. It’s why they have an athletic director.”

The NCAA report showed UNT collected $4,641,911 in student fees in 2008 compared to $10,723,272 in 2015. In 2008, UNT received $14,081 in institutional support. That figure grew nearly 662 percent in 2015 to total $9,319,514.

When tallied together, UNT’s student athletic fees and institutional support make up roughly two thirds of the athletic department’s revenue.

At a Board of Regents meeting in September 2015, Villarreal asked for permission to increase the student athletic fee by $1 per semester credit hour – a motion that was approved. Villarreal said despite the recent rise, North Texas still has the lowest fees both in C-USA and across the state.

“There’s a certain group that wants to take North Texas and make us somebody else,” Villarreal said. “Our own people want to make us different than everybody else. I’ve never really in my entire career been around this kind of situation where we always want to look at the negative. If the university decided tomorrow that it didn’t want an athletic program, then that would be their decision.”

This issue is not only plaguing UNT, though.

In a report by the Texas Tribune, it was documented that all but two public universities in Texas lost money on their athletic programs in 2015. According to the report, the only two public schools to make a profit were Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin.

However, this was not exactly the case. Texas Tribune staff writer and lead reporter on the aforementioned report Matthew Watkins said his publication chose to intentionally subtract student fees and institutional support from each school’s bottom line in order to paint a clearer picture of the money universities generated from things like ticket and merchandise sales.

Erica Wieting | Staff Graphic Artist

Erica Wieting | Staff Graphic Artist

“It would be inaccurate to say the athletic department is in debt or failing to cover their expenses, because they do have that money,” Watkins said. “It’s just we felt that money […] there’s a difference between what we would call earned revenue and what we could call a subsidy, which is being used to basically keep the athletic department financially solvent.”

In actuality, UNT made a $43,557 profit in 2015 when student fees and institutional support were accounted for. Watkins did not feel he skewed or misrepresented the data, though.

Instead, he said that by introducing the figures without student fees and institutional support, he provided transparency as to what was going on within athletic programs in Texas.

“I would be surprised if schools stopped doing this,” Watkins said. “People care so much in Texas about [athletics] that it’s hard to imagine this ending anytime soon.”

After learning of the increases to finance the athletic department, some UNT students and alumni are questioning whether the hike in student fees is justifiable.

Vlad Otvos graduated from UNT last December and was an avid supporter of North Texas athletics. He said he has attended between three and five football games per year, as well as various swimming and diving events. Additionally, he said the rate at which UNT funds athletics compared to other things on campus seems unbalanced.

“You have a school of 40,000, and maybe 500 are on a sports team. That’s not a high percentage,” Otvos said. “We’re pouring all this money into 500 students. What about all these graduate students who are TAs in biology labs who aren’t getting paid enough because our money goes to sports?”

Other students did not take as much of an issue with the increase in fees.

Finance senior Robert Watson said he did not think UNT receiving roughly $20 million from the university in student fees and institutional support was too much money. Rather, he saw it as a necessary investment in the athletic department.

“You want to be able to take pride in saying ‘I went there,’” Watson said. “We may see it now that they drove the student fees pretty high in the past five, six, seven years, but five years from now we may look back and say ‘UNT is now a University of Houston, or whatever.’ And it started because we decided we cared about being good at sports.”

For Villarreal, the goal remains to improve UNT’s infrastructure and put winning teams on the court and field. But unlike others, he does not necessarily see winning as an immediate fix to the revenue problem.

“When we were winning 20 games a year six years in a row in basketball, our season ticket numbers didn’t triple or quadruple or whatever,” Villarreal said. “A lot of places it would. Why does it not here? I’m not sure. It’s not because we’re not out there pursuing it or trying to make it happen.”

Featured Image: The University of North Texas’ institutional support grew nearly 662% from 2008 to 2015. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

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