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Will It Pass?

Voting on athletics referendum to begin on Sunday

By Pauling Wilson
On March 14, 2013

  • The St. Thomas mission team poses after finishing painting a house that was funded by St. Thomas. Pictured left to right are Travis Beyer, Darin Branson, Anne Blanchard, Freshman from Raceland, Lynette Boudreaux, Michele Beary, Lauren Beary, Amy Shows, bu. Danielle Stringer

A referendum aiming to cover the budget deficit in athletics will be among the items on the ballot during spring elections, which begin March 17.
The referendum was written last semester by Matthew Jewell, Student Government Association President, and was approved for the ballot at the first SGA meeting of this semester.
The referendum reads, "The students of Nicholls State University hereby approve a self-assessment fee at the rate of three percent of the previous fall in-state tuition and fees to be paid by all students up to 12 hours each semester and session effective with the fall 2013 semester."
Based on the previous fall in-state tuition and fees, this referendum will apply a $7 per credit hour fee up to 12 hours, totaling $84 per full- time student toward the athletics department.   This $84 will be added to the $64.12 referendum that was passed a year ago. It does not replace the other referendum, Jewell said.
The student assessed athletic fee of $42 is a fee that is only allowed to be used for women's sports and safety, not for operations, Jewell said.
"The revenue from the referendum will provide for a more meaningful collegiate athletic experience by ensuring the stability of the athletics department and the well-being of the student-athletes," Rob Benardi, athletics director, said.
This referendum will address the problems the athletics department is facing based on outside factors they cannot control.
"The referendum addresses the short-falls in the athletics department's budget," Jewell said. "What is happening is without the athletics department doing anything different and not spending any money; they are coming into the year with a deficit due to outside factors such as a 5 percent increase in housing."
Last year a referendum was passed that included a portion for the athletics department. Unfortunately, there probably was not enough communication between SGA and the athletics department on the amount of money the athletics department needed, Jewell said.
"My referendum effectively covers the athletic department for the next five years at a minimum, so there will not be another referendum next semester for the athletics department," Jewell said.
The term "five years" refers to the hopes Jewell has that this referendum will help the athletics department financially. It does not refer to the length of time students will have to pay the fee. This student assessed fee will continue on indefinitely, until a later student body decides that the athletics department no longer needs the revenue.
Another reason Jewell decided to write and propose the referendum is because if this financial issue is not addressed, there could be consequences of losing the athletics program at the University, he said.
This would affect the 310 athletes here at the University. It would also affect students that participate in the athletic events. This includes trainers, equipment managers, band members, cheerleaders, Colonelettes, student film crew members and student media on campus.  
In preparing for the referendum, Jewell did research on other colleges that at one point lost their athletic department and the effect it had on the University.
"I looked at Southeastern and Lamar, both of them lost their football teams and in turn lost a substantial number of students. Southeastern lost about 1,200 students within two years of the program going away. This is a big deal for Nicholls because the University cannot afford to lose 300 students let alone 1,200 students."
In the state of Louisiana, the Board of Regents outlines how much a University can contribute to the athletics department.
The University's max contribution to the athletics department is 3.4 million dollars; currently the athletics department only receives 2.6 million from the University. Other schools in the University of Louisiana system including Southeastern, McNeese, and Northwestern State are all fully funded by their Universities, whereas Nicholls State is not fully funded.
"The reason the University cannot fully fund the athletics department is because they want to keep as much money in the academic program as possible," Jewell said. "This referendum essentially ensures that the University is not going to have to take away from academics to help cover the athletics department."  
One of the first things Jewell wanted the athletics department to do was show him how they were going to raise money for the department.
"They showed me that they are raising more money than ever before and potentially going to a third party vendor to help increase ticket sales," Jewell said.
Another way the athletics department raises money is through game guarantees, an agreement that an opposing team will pay the University some amount of money to play them.
"The University currently has guarantees of $1.2 million, after expenses for game travel, the University in the end does not receive the full $1.2 million," Jewell said.
Jewell understands the point of raising money for the department, but does not understand why it has to be at the expense of the athletes.
"I commend our athletic department for going out and doing this to raise money, because this is one of the only ways they can, but I do not think it's fair at the same time that our school has to go across the nation to get their asses kicked, just so we can raise money," Jewell said. "Our first game is against the Oregon Ducks, the number three team in nation.  I do not think it is fair for our athletes to go and lose the first game of the season and potentially get hurt because they need money to operate."
Jewell said the first question he always receives is what does the money go to.
"If you take the money the University contributes, $2.6 million, to the athletics department, the department then turns around and gives $1.9 million back to the University for scholarships. That is where the deficit is coming from," Jewell said.
If the referendum is passed, the funds will be used primarily for student athletes.
"The revenue generated from the increase will be used in the areas of health, safety and welfare for student-athletes," Benardi said. "The current conditions in these areas need to be improved.  Protecting the health, safety and welfare of our student-athletes should not be looked upon as optional or excessive. We have to make improvements in these critical areas."
If the referendum passes, SGA plans to institute a rewards program for students who attend games.
Students will still be allowed to attend the more than 90 home games of each sports season. The passage of the referendum will enhance school spirit with new programs, Jewell said.
"One program that may arise if the referendum is passed is a point system," Jewell said. "The University will track the number of games through the Colonel Card.  With each game attended, students will earn points. In turn, students will be able to turn the points in for prizes that indicate school spirit.  SGA would set tiers, with each tier having particular prizes assigned to them. Then depending on how many points a student has, they will be classified into a tier and then able to pick the associated prizes."
There is also a possibility with the passage of the referendum that student worker positions in the athletics department could double, Jewell said.
These positions will be open to all students, not just student athletes, and consist of assistants for basketball games and football games, as well as other assistants within the department, Jewell said.
"Athletics is an important component of the collegiate experience," Benardi said. "Intercollegiate athletics builds pride in the institution and serves as a window in which to view the institution as a whole. It's important that we have a healthy, both financially and competitively, athletics program.  I think it's especially important for the future of Nicholls that we increase student enrollment.  In order for us to increase our enrollment, we need to make Nicholls as physically, socially and academically attractive as possible.  In my mind, the student referendum is a means toward improving all three of those important areas."
Students have mixed feelings on the referendum and the funds that may potentially be added to their bills.
"I do not think it is such a bad idea. If the referendum keeps funds in academics and still benefits the athletics department, it is not that bad," Colleen Beattie, dietetics freshman from Morgan City, said.  "In the long run, you are not going to miss $86."
Paul Lupo, culinary senior from Hammond, does not feel that he can take an additional $86 to his fees.
"I cannot take on another increase personally. It is just not a good time for me," Lupo said. "The majority of the people I know feel the same. With the start of a new semester, we always have the same conversation about new fees added, and it is never a good one."

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