GRIZ GRIT: Funding Sports

By Beacon Staff

The University of Montana this month will ask the Board of Regents to allow it to gradually increase the student athletic fee over the next two years.

The fee would increase $12.50 each of the next fours semesters and would then be permanent, raising an estimated $750,000 a year depending on enrollment. It is earmarked to fund a new women’s softball team, which athletic department officials say is needed to maintain federal Title IX mandates ensuring equal athletic opportunity for women.

Recently the Associated Students of UM (ASUM) voiced its approval of changing the fee, currently the lowest in the Big Sky Conference, which after two years would increase from $92 a semester to $142, a 55 percent jump.

Before taking the measure to the regents, either a campus referendum or a vote of the student governing body was required. The outcome is not binding, but rather just an indication of students’ wishes.

Last year’s attempt to increase the fee $56 to provide study areas, a weight room and improve locker facilities in addition to building an art annex was voted down by a vote of the student body.

Make no mistake, UM’s athletic infrastructure is in dire straits. While Washington-Grizzly Stadium looks like the crown jewel of the Big Sky Conference, there’s plenty of negative recruiting that occurs when athletes visit other league schools that have consistently enhanced their athletic facilities.

Financing the addition of softball or another women’s sport is a virtual necessity. UM just completed an NCAA recertification report, which is required every seven years to determine the school’s compliance with federal Title IX standards.

Adding women’s softball will help in that regard as will reducing some men’s team rosters and adding to female rosters.

Virtually every school faces financial challenges in its sports programs. And some, like the Pac-10 members the University of California and Arizona State University, have gone to the private sector for support for individual sports that otherwise faced elimination because of insufficient funding.

On the Berkeley campus, for example, men’s and women’s gymnastics, women’s lacrosse and baseball recently were saved from elimination and rugby saved as a varsity sport, rather than dropped to the club level, because of specifically earmarked donations.

Officials were quick to point out the announcement about sport elimination was not part of an overall fundraising strategy. But while it had an immediate effect for the specific sports, it is yet to be seen if it has had a long-term effect on general fundraising.

My belief is the average benefactor likes to know where the money is being spent rather than providing to the general budget. But a problem arises, of course, if general donations decrease in proportion to an increase in specific sports. How do institutions continue to fund the lower-profile endeavors?

It promises to create an ongoing discussion and one I think you should keep your eye on.

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