In a continuing effort to offset a projected athletic budget shortfall of more than $3 million next year, the University of Tennessee will begin this season charging students for football tickets.
Students will pay $90 for a season ticket, or $15 per game if purchased on a game-by-game basis. Previously, students could obtain tickets for free with a valid student ID.
All full-time students pay a mandatory $250 program-and-services fee, which helps fund several facilities and programs, such as the University Center, Student Health Services and the Student Government Association. It will remain in effect.
The fee will continue to allow students free admission to all UT sporting events except football.
UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said several options were discussed, including asking for an increase in the amount the university receives from student fees. Ultimately, though, the decision to charge students attending football games made the most sense, he said.
“The reason we didn’t (raise fees), frankly, is that a student fee affects every student on campus,” Hamilton said. “By actually charging for the football tickets, it’s a user-specific amount. Somebody can choose whether to purchase tickets or not. We hope that students will come and be a part of it and that they’ll buy all the tickets they have available to them.”
SGA President John Rader said students expressed outrage over the decision.
“We’re simply baffled that there can be that large of an increase in such a short amount of time,” he said. “It’s lunacy to me. It just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to make such a dramatic decision without consulting the people who are directly affected.”
Still, charging students for football tickets is a common practice in the Southeastern Conference. Of the 12 SEC schools, only South Carolina and Vanderbilt admit students for free.
Tennessee’s men’s athletic department receives no money from student fees, and $1 million from the student program-and-services fee goes to help fund the women’s athletic department.
According to UT figures, Auburn’s athletic department receives about $4.9 million in student fees. Florida gets about $2.5 million in student fees, and Georgia’s athletic association received $3.7 million in athletic fees last year. Those three schools have one athletic department for both men’s and women’s programs.
Charging students for football tickets is “a road we’re not paving, compared to our peers,” Hamilton said. “It’s a road we’re following. We’ve tried to avoid it as long as we can.”
The increased revenue, which also is to include a $19 jump in non-student season-ticket prices and a 30 percent reduction in discounts for faculty and staff, announced March 31, will go toward stemming a projected $3.15 million shortfall in the athletic department’s operating budget for 2009.
That includes costs such as tuition for student-athlete scholarships and travel for both men’s and women’s athletic teams. It will also help with non-operational costs, mainly projected pay raises for men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl, football coach Phillip Fulmer and their staffs.
The budget shortfall, however, does not include any money for capital projects such as the continuing renovation of Neyland Stadium, which are financed through earmarked donations and do not come from the operating budget.
Hamilton said that in the coming months, students will determine how to distribute their 13,500-ticket allotment, which will not change in 2008.
“As a student leader, I’m not against students paying a nominal fee to attend athletic events,” Rader said. “But this isn’t a reasonable request, in my opinion.”
Rader added that he expects fewer students to attend games this season as a result of the increase.
“I think you’re creating animosity among the group of fans,” Rader said, “and the largest supporters of our football team.”
Drew Edwards may be reached at 865-342-6274.