Student athletic fees, which fuel college athletics at the state’s mid-major schools, continue to rise in South Carolina.
The state’s six public mid-major schools (FCS and non-football Division I programs) raised their athletic fees for in-state students by an average of 11.5 percent in 2014-15, according to figures from the state Commission on Higher Education. The increases ranged from 51.4 percent at Coastal Carolina to 2.9 percent at College of Charleston, with South Carolina State decreasing its reported fee by 3 percent.
The Citadel boosted its fee some 3.9 percent to $2,486 per student, while College of Charleston’s fee rose almost 3 percent to $1,246 per student.
Student athletic fees and other subsidies pay for most of college athletics at the state’s Division I schools other than Clemson and South Carolina. USA Today’s most recent financial database, for the 2014-15 school year, show that the state’s public mid-major schools depend on student athletic fees and other subsidies for 78.03 percent of their athletic department budgets.
Those figures range from 83.14 percent at Coastal Carolina to 68.14 percent at The Citadel. Student fees and subsidies provide 78.9 percent of the athletic budget at College of Charleston.
That’s in stark contrast to Power Five programs such as South Carolina and Clemson, where student athletic fees play only a nominal role in funding athletic departments. USC, with total revenues of more than $113 million in 2014-15, charges a fee of $104 per student. Clemson, with revenues of $83.5 million, does not charge a student fee to support intercollegiate athletics.
“The issues are not with schools like Michigan, or Clemson and South Carolina,” said USC Upstate business professor Jeff Smith, who has studied finances in college athletics. “The issues are with schools like Coastal Carolina and College of Charleston and Winthrop and The Citadel, which depend so much on student athletic fees.”
The sharp increases in student athletic fees — for example, the amount of student fees collected by The Citadel has risen 149 percent since 2005, and 140 percent at College of Charleston — have attracted legislative attention in other states, and in Congress.
In Virginia, for instance, lawmakers passed a measure requiring state schools to reduce their reliance on student fees.
“I applaud Virginia for that effort,” Smith said. “According to my studies, Virginia has been one of the subsidized states in the country, and South Carolina is usually in the top three. A percentage limitation is a good idea, but I really like a dollar limitation — say, $300 a year for each student.”
Accounting for student athletic fees varies from school to school, Smith said. Coastal Carolina, for example, reports a student athletic fee of $530 per student to the Commission on Higher Education, up from $350. But subsidies made up more than 83 percent of Coastal Carolina’s budget of $25.8 million in 2014-15, bringing the true cost to more than $2,200 per student, according to Smith.
One way for mid-major schools to reduce their costs — and perhaps student fees — is to abandon the idea of traditional conferences, Smith said. Instead of belonging to one conference for all sports, schools should select conferences that make geographic sense for each sport.
“You could have your basketball team in one conference, and then non-revenue sports in a conference that makes more sense,” he said. “A real cost is in your non-revenue teams having to travel.”
Smith points to the Atlantic Sun Conference, which includes USC Upstate and schools from Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, along with New Jersey Institute of Technology, in Newark, N.J.
“It’s hard to see the benefit of sending our volleyball teams and tennis teams to go play in New Jersey,” he said. “I think that sort of proposal is the best idea.”
With rich Power Five schools spearheading measures such as cost-of-attendance stipends for student-athletes, financial pressure on mid-major schools only increases. College of Charleston, for example, is committed to paying a cost of attendance stipend to all its athletes, at an estimated annual cost of $300,000.
That’s another reason, Smith said, that athletic budgets and fees will only continue to rise without some action.
There are two bills in the U.S. House of Representatives that would establish a Presidential Commission to look into the NCAA and college sports. The Drake Group, “a national organization of faculty and others whose mission is to protect academic integrity in higher education from the negative aspects of commercialized college sports,” recently announced its support for one of those bills, H.R. 2731, introduced by Rep. Charles Dent (R-Pa.).
“Most Division I athletic programs receive institutional subsidies (including student fees) even though high tuition and student fees are the subjects of media and Congressional scrutiny,” The Drake Group’s announcement said.
Said Smith, “Currently, there’s no incentive for any athletic department to ever reduce their budgets. It’s like any other part of government — ‘If we don’t spend it this year, we won’t get it next year.’ I don’t see anybody trying to reduce their budgets; they are only trying to increase them.”
Division I public schools
School/Fee (Fall 2015)/(2014)/Change
C of C/$1,246/$1,210/+2.9%
Source: Commission on Higher Education.