My annual rant on UVA Athletics student fees

UVA AthleticsWe’re to the time of year where I write my annual column decrying how much the UVA athletics department relies on student fees to balance its budget.

The Daily Progress has a story on athletics department revenues, which for the 2017-2018 fiscal year measured at $106.6 million, the second time in three years that the department had surpassed the $100 million mark.

Which would be great, if not for the line item involving student fees.

Student fees actually outpace ticket sales, if you can believe that.

Student fees accounted for $14.2 million in UVA Athletics revenues in the 2017-2018 fiscal year; ticket sales ended up at $13.9 million.

For comparison, Virginia Tech, last year, used $8.9 million in student fees toward its athletics bottom line, and Florida State reported $8.5 million in student fees going to its athletics budget.

The big boys – the Alabamas, the Clemsons – have eliminated student fees.

How much of that is because of their success at football – translating to sellouts on Saturdays?

UVA Football generated just over $8 million in ticket sales for its seven home dates in 2017, with average attendance at 39,398 in the 61,500-seat Scott Stadium.

The average ticket revenue per seat comes to just around $29. Sell out the seven-game schedule, and the total revenue would come in at $12.5 million, an increase of $4.5 million over what the program generated at two-thirds capacity.

That comes close, at least, to accounting for the gap between UVA, Virginia Tech and Florida State, but still leaves a hole of around $10 million between what UVA would be taking from its students and what the ‘Bamas and Clemsons do.

And before you take issue with the characterization there, taking from the students, that’s exactly what that is.

The kids pay student fees at the same time they pay their tuition, and in this day and age, with student-loan debt being a crippling matter for young college grads, the idea that a portion of their loan debt is due to monies that pass through to pay for athletics is … tough.

We’re talking, for the average four-year student at UVA, more than $2,600 in student fees over the course of their time on Grounds.

That’s $2,600 heaped on their debt after graduation, or extra dollars that they have to make during the school year and in the summer while they’re on Grounds, trying to make ends meet and work toward their degree.

The myth of college athletics is that the athletics department makes money when the football team goes to a big bowl game or the basketball team goes to a Final Four, and that money ends up somehow helping out on the academic side.

The reality, forever, is that athletics is another form of marketing for the school, and forever doomed to be a loss leader.

Which is fine. I run a marketing company. I see the bigger picture.

The better UVA teams do on the field, on the court, on TV, the more kids will want to apply.

It’s a business, actually a couple of businesses, intertwined: a school using an athletics department as a marketing arm.

I’d just throw out the suggestion that they could be run a little leaner, roughly $14.2 million on the athletics side, anyway.

Column by Chris Graham



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