TSL Poll: Should Virginia Tech Increase Student Athletic Fees?

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A Hokie volleyball player gets set for action. (photo by Ivan Morozov)
A Hokie volleyball player gets set for action. (photo by Ivan Morozov)

We’re going to ask you at the end of this article if Virginia Tech should change (increase or decrease) student athletic fees. But don’t jump ahead to the poll, because it’s not as simple a question as you think. You have to do some reading first.

For starters, please read last Thursday’s article (Part 1) first, if you haven’t already.

Next, digest the following.

A new law caps and limits student athletic fees in Virginia

The Commonwealth of Virginia recently signed into law House Bill 1897, which caps and controls how much Virginia’s colleges can charge for athletic fees.

The bill takes effect for the 2016-17 Academic Year, which means it kicks in on July 1, 2016, a little over a year from now.

There are two major provisions in the bill: (1) a provision that limits athletic fee revenue as a percentage of overall athletic department revenue; and (2) a provision that limits how much a college can increase the athletic fee in a given year.

Student athletic fees as a percentage of athletic revenue

The percentage of athletic revenue that is now allowed to come from student athletic fees is dependent upon one of four institutional athletic classifications.

1.)  Power 5 schools (Virginia Tech and UVa): Under the new law, up to 20% of athletic revenue can come from student fees.

In the 2013-14 academic year, VT’s and Virginia’s percentages were:

  • VT: 10.7%
  • UVa: 15.8%

2.)  Non-Power 5 schools with FBS football (ODU): Under the new law, up to 55% of athletic revenue can come from student fees.

In the 2013-14 academic year, ODU’s percentage was:

  • ODU: 65.1%

3.)  FCS football schools (JMU, William & Mary): Under the new law, up to 70% of athletic revenue can come from student fees.

In the 2013-14 academic year, JMU and W&M’s percentages were:

  • JMU: 76.8%
  • W&M: 49.6%

4.)  Division 1 schools with no football (VCU, George Mason, Radford): Under the new law, up to 78% of athletic revenue can come from student fees.

In the 2013-14 academic year, VCU, GMU, and Radford’s percentages were:

  • VCU: 65.9%
  • George Mason: 68.3%
  • Radford: 85.8%

Displayed with an infographic, here’s where the listed schools were in 2013-14, and where the new law requires them to be in 2016-17 (that said, they have five years to become compliant):

Infographic created from an original supplied by OXVT; click for larger version
Infographic created from an original supplied by OXVT; click for larger version

Virginia Tech is easily compliant with the first provision – the 20% limit – and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

But there’s another provision of the bill that caps how much schools can increase their athletic fees in any given year. This second provision may cause difficulty (or ‘heartburn’) for the Board of Visitors and/or VT Administration someday in the future.

The cap on increasing student fees

Here’s a provision from the bill that is both important and problematic:

D. Effective with the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2016, any percentage increase in the subsidy at an institution that complies with subsection C [the 20% limit] shall be matched by a like percentage increase in generated revenue, except that each such institution shall utilize a rolling average of the change in generated revenue and student fees over the immediately preceding five years for the purposes of such calculation.

Yeah … that doesn’t make any sense to me, either.

But here’s how it was explained to me by a friend who has studied this stuff closely: take a five-year average of the percentage increase or decrease in a school’s generated athletic revenue (coming from sources other than student fees), and in any given year, you can’t increase your student athletic fee by any more than that five-year percentage.

Let’s take an example. Let’s say a school’s generated athletic revenue has increased, on average, 3% a year for the last five years. Under the new law, that school can’t increase their student athletic fee by more than 3% for the next year.

If their athletic fee was $500, then the most they can increase it by is $15, for a new fee of $515.

Do you see what this means? Once the bill kicks in for the 2016-17 academic year, colleges in the state of Virginia will have a cap on how much they can increase their student athletic fees. That cap has never existed or been imposed on colleges and universities, until now.

Virginia Tech’s disadvantage

Let’s review VT’s 2013-14 student fees versus other state colleges. Remember, this data is a year old, but the proportion of the fees for 2014-15 is similar.

Infographic created from an original supplied by OXVT; click for larger version
Infographic created from an original supplied by OXVT; click for larger version

Because Virginia Tech has the lowest fees, they’ll always have the lowest fees in perpetuity. Barring some miraculous explosion in Virginia Tech athletics revenue, Tech will always be limited to small annual increases. But perhaps more important, Virginia Tech will never be able to increase the sheer dollar amount of student athletic fees by as much as other schools.

If, for example, every school has a five-year average athletic revenue increase of 3%, they’ll all be able to raise their fees by up to 3%. For each school in the infographic above, that would be increases of:

  • VT: $8
  • UVa: $20
  • ODU: $41
  • W&M: $47
  • JMU: $37
  • VCU: $21
  • GMU: $16
  • Radford: $35

Once this bill kicks in, Virginia Tech’s student athletic fees will be forever capped at a much lower dollar value than other state institutions. The competitive disadvantage with UVa will only widen; 3% of $657 is annually almost 2 ½ times that of $273.

But the bill doesn’t kick in until 2016-17, which gives the Hokies a one-year window (2015-16) to increase what will become their base student athletic fee once the new bill takes effect.

In other words, Virginia Tech has an opportunity in the coming academic year to set the student athletic fee to whatever they want, before the new law caps the student athletic fee increases forever.

Which leads to the question…

Should Virginia Tech increase student athletic fees in 2015-16?

The problem with asking this question is that Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors has already set tuition and fees for 2015-16, at their late March meeting. Online research doesn’t reveal what the athletic fee, which was $282 this year (2014-15), will be next year. (Update: This link reveals that the athletic fee has been set to $288, a $6 per year increase.)

Whatever the fee is, a vote now to increase athletic fees before the next Academic Year starts (August) would be a political hot potato, given the climate in Virginia towards athletic fees at colleges and universities. (They did, after all, just sign a bill into law to limit athletic fees.)

Nonetheless, we’ll ask you, the TSL readership, this question: Should Virginia Tech increase athletic fees for 2015-16, before the new state law that limits annual fee increases takes effect for 2016-17?

This would be a one-time only increase, and it’s worth noting that every $25 increase would add approximately $700,000 to Virginia Tech’s annual student athletic fee revenue (which was $7.8 million in 2013-14 on a fee of $273 per student).

  • +$25/year = +$700k additional revenue
  • +$50 = +$1.4 million
  • +$75 = +$2.1 million
  • +$100 = +$2.8 million

Remember, this is at a time when the new Cost of Attendance provision, for example, is adding about $950,000 to Virginia Tech’s annual athletic budget, starting next year.

Time to vote.

Virginia Tech's student athletic fee for 2014-15 was $282. Should it be increased for 2015-16?

  • The student athletic fee should be reduced or eliminated (8%, 81 Votes)
  • Leave it the same (12%, 130 Votes)
  • Increase it by $25 (9%, 95 Votes)
  • Increase it by $50 (20%, 216 Votes)
  • Increase it by $75 (4%, 45 Votes)
  • Increase it by $100 (21%, 224 Votes)
  • Increase it by more than $100 (26%, 283 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,074

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54 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. As a parent of a daughter heading to Georgia Southern, I see no reason why I would want to pay more to fund scholarships for other kids, etc. At her orientation yesterday, I looked through the info for the fee. $214 for athletics (which doesn’t include the $142 fee for their rec center, etc. that she would actually use).

    Personally, I think the fees should go away for all schools but I realize that would never happen.

  2. What about the proposal (and vision) of Sands to increase enrollment to 50k? Wouldn’t that add and significant amount to the pool?

    Maybe that’s why we don’t see outcry to increase it or against the annual max.

    1. very solid idea to “recompense” students/their parents (whoever is paying the athletic fee et als).
      not sure how you’d accomplish that for 31,000 students equally – but I suppose it is possible.
      I do like the concept of the students getting something tangible in return for their increased fee!

      1. very solid idea to “recompense” students/their parents (whoever is paying the athletic fee et als).
        not sure how you’d accomplish that for 31,000 students equally – but I suppose it is possible.
        I do like the concept of the students getting something tangible in return for their increased fee!

      2. Ooops! posted under wrong comment:

        this reply intended for Hokie Flyer’s comment

  3. Increase to maximum 20%; about double what is paid now to ~$550. BUT in kind, more access to athletics should be returned to the students in the form of tickets etc.

    1. very solid idea to “recompense” students/their parents (whoever is paying the athletic fee et als).
      not sure how you’d accomplish that for 31,000 students equally – but I suppose it is possible.
      I do like the concept of the students getting something tangible in return for their increased fee!

  4. Will, I’d like to see a subsection of this poll that only includes the votes of current students or parents paying the tuition of current students. As a student responsible for my own tuition, its abhorrent to me that the board would even consider raising the athletic fee. The tuition and fees for the 2015-16 school year has already been agreed upon by the BOV, and distributed to incoming and current students. What kind of image would that project if Virginia Tech retroactively raised the 2015-16 student athletic fee after thousands of incoming freshmen paid their enrollment deposit thinking their tuition and fees were already agreed upon? That’s outright deception and piracy.

    It seems some people’s thinking in regard to this article is, “Lets raise the fee now in case something bad happens in the future – $100 is no big deal.” Sure its no big deal to the casual fan who isn’t a student or tuition payer, but for someone like me with a strict, shoestring budget – that $100 could be the difference between me paying full tuition/fees and me being able to purchase a textbook or other required material for a course. That’s the reality for some people. Its abhorrent to me that people with “no skin in the game” so to speak are so in favor of an increase. Oh $100 is no big deal for you? Wonderful. Put your money where your mouth is and donate that $100 to the Hokie Club. Raising this fee for some unforeseen, nebulous circumstance is ludicrous. Does anyone see such a precipitous fall of the athletic program across the board to where $1 million extra would be a saving grace? I’m confident that Mr. Babcock and the other “powers that be” can successfully develop an operating budget without that extra money. After all, its their job. Also, the notion that an increase of the fee now would put Virginia Tech on even footing competitively is ridiculous. What would that potential extra money help with? Its not going to the scholarship endowment, does Tech really need a fourth alternate helmet with real turkey feathers or some other such nonsense? Do the Marching Virginians really have to be in attendance at the bowl game?

    As with most students, I came to Tech for an education and a degree. A football national championship would be wonderful, but it doesn’t affect my degree one way or another, and I guarantee a majority of students feel the same way. I’ll be more concerned with paying back my student loans in 5-10 years than whether Virginia Tech is a top rank athletic department, and I guarantee a majority of students feel the same way. Sorry to rant, but It’s just despicable to me that fans with no university affiliation “have their hands on my wallet” so to speak, and want to use my money and the money of other students (who are already pushed to the limit financially) to support undefined, uncertain ends.

    1. I understand your reservations about the increase. I’m a bit confused about your statement that people with “no university affiliation” are in favor of increasing the athletic fee. The recent poll on TSL showed that the majority of TSL members are alumni. As someone who also struggled financially while at VT (not uncommon), I am sympathetic to your position.

      1. I don’t think everyone who voted in the poll is a student or alumni, same for the comments.

    2. I have to agree with this. If anyone is to be asked to pay more for VT athletics, it should be alumni who earn a living, not students or their parents, who are already spending a fortune for tuition and fees. I would rather see ticket prices rise $5 to the same effect. Students already have too much on their backs. I am Class of ’81, BTW.

    3. I generally agree with this. Colleges should first, second and third be about providing a quality education at a reasonable price. Athletics should always be a lesser consideration. The concept that it is “just” an extra $100 is short sighted and selfish. Other people’s money is the easiest to spend……

    4. Thank you for articulating your point. I completely agree and disappointed that this is our discourse. Certainly, having lower fees should be something that VT would be proud to achieve and work to maintain. A true Hokie would never follow the UVA roadmap just to conform to their standard. Do better.

    5. We’re conditioning you to be a taxpayer. Welcome to life after college while in college.

  5. Will, Once you complete this poll, send the results to Babcock. Such poll results should guide his decisions as VT AD.

    I paid student fees at VT, much less than today’s fees. While I am against increases in costs for education and all things at college–education should be there for all who will learn–I believe a valuable part of the university experience is sports and entertainment at highest levels.

  6. Why wouldn’t we raise it all the way up to 20% of our athletic revenue? We’ll still look great by comparison to other VA schools. I don’t see the downside. If I had a kid at Tech, I’d gladly pay it and wouldn’t think twice about it.

  7. Leave it to politicians to muck things up. The initial portion of the law is fine. There should have been a “cap” on how much a school could charge it’s students for NCAA athletic subsidy.

    But as politicians, and their staff people, are want to do, they then add way too much complexity by the “cap” included in the 2nd part. Somehow, it’s just not right to punish the one school that has done the best in keeping the student subsidy of athletics down.

    There is an easy solution to this mess. 1) Leave the 1st part alone. 2) strike the second part’s language completely. In it’s place, cap any schools annual increase of the student athletic fee to some number, say 10%, or the max allowed each year in part one, which ever is smaller.

  8. One unrecognized advantage that UVa uses: dollars for non-revenue sports. If there is any area where the ‘hoos excel, it is in the so called Olympic sports. Use the additional dollars generated to pump up those sports for VT. Add scholarships, facilities, recruiting, etc. Most of these non-revenue sports go wanting. Additional revenues from student fees could make a huge difference.

  9. Why not up student fees then give it right back in some form of rebate? Fees officially go up, but cost to the student does not.

    1. I like it. Make student season fb and bb tickets free – immediately increases fee by approx. $150.

  10. My vote is to eliminate the fee in its entirety. Athletics should either be covered by tuition or there should be a user fee attached (i.e., ticket price) if the students actually attend/participate. It is like paying for a hotel room and being charged a mandatory “resort fee” on top of the room charge. Just my opinion……

    1. If it was the same for UVA and every other Power 5 program, I would agree entirely. But until everybody else bans it, we put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage with some programs.

  11. Wow, everyone is sure in a hurry to volunteer SOMEBODY ELSE’S money.

    College is expensive enough these days without forcing students to sink further into debt to subsidize the (already wealthy) athletic department. Especially for the sake of “keeping up with the Joneses”.

  12. I was pretty much against any large increase in the fees….until I read the article. I HATE the money grab and the ‘keeping up with the Saban’s’ mentality that IS college sports right now, but with the legislature capping the size of future increases, that has the perverse effect of punishing the school that HAS done a good job of keeping those fees down….VT.

    So if you want to have the room to move in the future, you have to go for the big increase now. Sucks, but that’s the fact at this point.

    UNLESS VT lobbies to get rid of that max increase provision.

    1. Good point. It’s not really about where we are right now. It’s about where we MIGHT find ourselves 10-15 years down the road. What if we really need that money then, and we aren’t able to get it? To be on the safe side, we should make it available now. Granted, I doubt anything will happen.

      1. So we should essentially tax students now for possible future needs? If it is obvious that we REALLY NEED the money in the future then the political power will be there to rescind laws, pass new laws or grant exemptions. As always the definition of need and want is subjective, in this case on how much you value athletics.

        Private individuals should be the ones “saving” money for a rainy day. I don’t need a quasi goveerment entity saving my money for their possible future needs, also in my experience once money is apprpriated there is always a “need” somewhere.

      2. well, Chris and Will: would a one-time (for 2016-17) increase set up a higher base level (that we can revert to in future) for calculating % increases? – with the provisions:
        a) that in 2017-18 the student athletic fee returns to our historically super-low rate, and
        b) that for the 2016-17 school year (those paying the one-year increase) compensation is given to each student as Hokie Flyer in form of free athletic tickets or cultural event tickets or intra-mural participant entrance fees.

  13. Well this is a no brainer. You have to increase it. Of course there will be people who are unhappy about. That’s life. But this law has forced our hand. We have to increase it, and like someone said, you err on the side of a bigger increase. If you are angry at a massive increase, you can’t blame VT. It would be borderline malfeasance (sort of kidding) if the VT administration doesn’t raise it substantially. If you want to blame anyone, blame the legislature in VA….they are ultimately responsible for causing the very thing they were trying to prevent. They may have meant well, but that doesn’t count for much in this scenario.

    1. There is no reason to panic and go for a money grab now at the expense of students. Tech could go for a legislative fix later if they find they really need fees higher than the new law allows. Given the inequity built into this law, I have no doubt we’d get one, too — if we need it. Further, we’ve done very well being the lowest-cost provider on the athletic fee list for a long time, despite a complete renovation of past athletic finances, and there’s no reason that cannot continue. I think it would be outrageous if VT dipped into student pockets out of some vague fear of the future.

  14. I see both sides. I do think it’s important to increase it – whatever amount brings us up close to our peer group (however you want to define that). You can’t allow yourself to be legally handcuffed should the landscape change.

    However, because it seems this is all about the new law more than anything, I wonder would it be possible to reduce some other fixed cost line item for students in the meantime? Because the way I read it – it’s not that we need the money right this minute, it’s that we need the flexibility to raise it should that need arise in the future.

  15. There seems to be little choice in this case. We need to make-up the deficit compared to other in-state schools within this calendar year (or else change the political process). In fact, I think we should overshoot the typical in-state numbers substantially. This is a one-shot deal. If you look at the revenue numbers of the elite programs, we have quite a bit of ground to make up. Considering the overall amount of money that the average student pays at VT, most students would understand a substantial increase in the athletic fee (compared to the benefit that the university receives from the program). If you are not concerned about football and the associated benefits, then I understand any disagreement with my opinion.

  16. This is fast becoming a public relations item that can bring a black eye to the university. Due to the number of students at VT, and the fact it seems to be growing annually, we will generate additional dollars as the student population grows. Why not use this as an opportunity to show that VT is the best value for the dollar in Virginia and keep these fees at the low level? Since we are operating in the black every year it will be hard to use the “hard times” argument. But perhaps that’s the parent of a student voice coming out of me:)

  17. It’s easy to make the green eyeshade case for an increase. I’d be curious to hear how anyone could defend it on moral grounds. Gouging more money from a captive student audience to support sports teams- especially when many students don’t even care about those teams and many students who do care are either denied tickets or shoehorned into poor seating areas- is unethical. As the parent of an incoming VT freshman, if such a mandatory increase were to occur, I would reduce my Hokie Club contribution by a corresponding amount. The fact that this question is even being pondered is exactly the reason the legislature needed to address the issue.

    1. How can the government take money I earned on “moral grounds”? Why is your freshman entitled to someone else’s money for their education?

      It’s the same argument in my opinion. The belief is that the common good is enhanced through individual sacrifice whether it is taxes or fees is the same. Your family will be making a sacrifice for the common good in this case.

      1. What exactly is the “common good” here? Sure it’d be cool to win the College Football Playoff or something, but how does that add the the “common good” in any sense?

        1. The university benefits from athletics. When we played for the championship applications went up which meant that the selection went up. At that point Virginia Tech can get higher ranked students and those elevate the prestige of the university. That is the “common good” for the students, the alumni, the university and the Commonwealth. It is similar to the case for raising taxes to support higher education. You can agree or disagree with it, but that is the moral case for it.

          1. I don’t deny that athletic success elevates the public profile of the university, thats pretty plain to see. I just don’t see why I should increase my personal student debt or go wanting for something necessary for my success so the athletic program can essentially have a “rainy day fund.” Sure, that athletic success funds applications (at $50 each btw), but the type of student you’re talking about – the type that does groundbreaking research for the university, the type that has his or her choice of schools nationwide – is not making their college choice based on which college football team has won the most games while they were in high school. The article you linked claims that, “…quality of student enrollments…” increases, but provides no data. Has Virginia Tech had more Rhodes Scholars since 1999? Fulbright Scholars? MacArthur Grant winners? Has the university attracted any Nobel laureate faculty members? Sure, exposure and athletic success increase numbers and revenue, but can one really say it enhances a student’s university educational experience? Does it enhance quality of campus life on any other day but Saturdays in the Fall? Possibly, but that benefit seems negligible at best. I don’t mean to be a jerk this is just an issue I’m very passionate about – the stranglehold that “big time” athletics has on institutions of higher education today.

    2. Finally, a voice of reason. Its discouraging that I had to read through 20 comments to find one.

      What JMU, ODU, W&M, etc are doing to their students is reprehensible.

  18. This had to be on Whit’s and VT’s radar for some time. They most likely wouldn’t have known the exact details of the new law back in March but, I’m sure they had a pretty good understanding of what it likely would entail. Assuming they had some knowledge of future plans of the state, the VT Board looks like they already decided against significantly raising the student athletic fees.

    1. Thanks. A search on “Virginia Tech 2015-16 Tuition and Fees” didn’t produce that link. I probably should have dug a little harder.

      1. By the way, I added a brief, parenthetical update to the article to include this info.

  19. Not sure how everyone else feels but I had a hard time voting on this one. The students obviously benefit from a viable sports program but it’s the alumni and the rest of the football fans that are really concerned about the budget. It’s easy to say someone else should kick in more but I would think anything we ask the students to pay should be matched by hokie club donations.

    1. This was an easy vote for me. Its not about Hokie Club, its a business question about student athletic fees and what makes sense, and its obvious from the data that VT’s fees are too low from a benchmarking perspective. VT’s students, relatively speaking, are getting a bargain to begin with and now there’s a new law on the horizon that forces the university to deal with it. The fact is that VT DOES compete in major division 1 college athletics and DOES have those costs to contend with to stay competitive, and all students know that when they choose to attend VT. Their personal interest level in sports is not material to the question – athletics are a part of the cost structure at VT. In business sometimes we review our pricing and find that our margins are too low and need to increase prices to stay competitive. This is no different, except that a new law is forcing the review because we have a deadline and only get a one time shot. That makes a maximum one time adjustment a no brainer. Choosing to wait with the idea we can challenge the legislation years later “if we need to” would be irresponsible.

    1. It is a big deal when you consider most people are already borrowing the money to go to school, and are often just borrowing tuition + room and board. That is, they’re not including other cost of attendance items such as transportation, food, lifestyle and (most importantly) books and supplies.

      Our low student fees, believe it or not, have always been a source of pride for the university because it keeps our cost of attendance lower for our students. I’ve often heard Bill Roth mention how much lower they are and praising it on shows like the Clubhouse and its predecessor Big Dog Sports Talk. And I’m, for one, against increasing it a dime as a former student of the university.

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