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With revenues for big-ticket sports at Kansas University climbing ever higher, student leaders have recommended reducing or ending the subsidy students pay to the athletics department.
This week students on the advisory board overseeing the student fee that goes to the department challenged the dollar amount as well as the overall role of student fees in supporting university athletics.
"The question looming over a lot of students' minds is … when do these student subsidies get left behind?" said Marcus Tetwiler, KU's student body president and a member of the advisory board.
KU students have subsidized sports through fees for more than 30 years. It began as a way to help the university provide support for women's athletics, which became a regulatory necessity under Title IX, a federal law protecting women's equality in education.
Currently all KU students pay a $25 dollar fee each semester, $10 in the summer, to fund student athletes and travel in women's sports and those sports that don't generate their own revenue.
The Women’s and Non-Revenue Intercollegiate Sports Advisory Board advocated nixing that fee altogether or at least reducing it. The Student Senate will take a final vote in March.
In 2013 students paid about $1.1 million to Kansas Athletics Inc., the operating arm of the athletics department. The department had nearly $93.7 million total revenue for the year.
The bulk of the department's revenue comes from ticket sales, conference distributions, television rights and private donations. The university also pays a subsidy for some operating expenses, staffing and for athletics director Sheahon Zenger's salary.
A Student Senate report outlining the history of the fees and the position of the authors states, "Of all the student groups and university organizations that Student Senate funds, Kansas Athletics is least in need of the funding they currently receive."
The athletics department has said that the fees are necessary for complying with Title IX. "The fee is an important part of what helps us achieve equity and travel in women's and non-revenue sports," said Jim Marchiony, an associate athletics director for Kansas Athletics Inc.
Marchiony said the athletics department has no specific financial contingency plan if student fee revenues are eliminated. "Everything would be on the table," he said.
This year's students are not the first to challenge the fee. In 2009, a Senate committee considered cutting them, but opted against it for fear that then-Chancellor Robert Hemenway would veto any cuts.