Rather than funding tickets to sports events, University of Oregon students will have access to a basic needs program.
The UO’s Board of Trustees approved the Associated Students of the University Oregon (ASUO) government’s request to not pay UO athletics an annual $1.8 million from incidental fees that students pay in their tuition. For a university that uses football and sports for recruitment, officials say the change won’t impact their strategies, and the ASUO president says addressing basic needs such as food and shelter could make the university more attractive for future students.
The change is effective for the 2021-22 academic year and can be undone by future student governments.
UO President Michael Schill provided a lukewarm view of the change in his meeting materials for the March 8 and 9 Board of Trustees meeting and again at the public meeting. But Schill found a funding replacement for athletics, though he and some officials questioned whether ASUO did its due diligence in outreach.
ASUO President Isaiah Boyd tells Eugene Weekly that not paying the athletics department has been long talked about in his experience in student government. ASUO oversees about $17 million in discretionary funds annually from the mandatory incidental fees, he says, and tickets are around 10 percent of the budget.
But the pandemic had a big role in the students pulling out of the athletics money agreement, Boyd says. He says he talked with ASUO Senate President Claire O’Connor about ways to get creative about finding money to help students and “retain our students and not have anyone suffer academically, mentally, physically because they can’t afford to pay their rent or they can’t afford a basic needs item like a menstrual product.”
Boyd says they talked about decreasing the student incidental fee, which goes toward the cost of student government and funds student groups and bus services. That would have been a more attractive option if the pandemic weren’t exposing a lack of basic need options for students.
The university doesn’t offer any money for food- or housing-insecure students, but with the $1.8 million that was used for student tickets, Boyd says ASUO will fund programs, such as childcare subsidies, housing, food and textbook support. “We’re able to establish a lot of student-oriented, student accessibility programs that I personally think will help students when they are trying to get through a class,” Boyd says, “and they’re trying to get through their four or five or how many years they end up staying.”
In his letter to the Board of Trustees, Schill said he would provide athletics with $1.2 million and offer future students a $100 voucher that would give them tickets for football and some men’s and women’s basketball games. This would create 5,000 discounted sports passes. Schill said the average cost of a game would be $14.29.
The $1.2 million comes from UO’s licensing revenue, which is listed as non-education and general budget. UO spokesperson Kay Jarvis tells EW that students will still be able to attend other sports games, such as soccer, softball and track and field. Jarvis adds that licensing revenue comes from sales of UO-branded merchandise and is slated as a one-time use. “The net proceeds from these sales have historically been split between the athletic department and university budget.”
Boyd says he finds it amusing that the UO administration quickly found $1.2 million for athletics when ASUO student government leaders were told that not paying for tickets was not an option. When he and other student leaders talked with administrators about ending the student ticket payments, he says he felt like he was in an interrogation room where officials hounded him for coming up with the basic needs programs.
According to Schill’s letter, 65 percent of UO students used the free tickets purchased through ASUO fees, but he said he’s worried low-income students will be excluded from sports events and encouraged the student government to consider whether funding the basic needs program’s impact has been desirable.
“If we’re prioritizing our tickets over basic needs, I think there’s a flaw in the system,” Boyd responds. “Tickets are a luxury that we offer on the side, but the central focus isn’t athletics; it’s academics.”
On March 9, the UO’s Board of Trustees and Schill discussed the resolution to approve the request to withdraw from paying for student tickets. Schill criticized ASUO’s outreach. “Was it the sort of deliberative process that they would expect us to deal with and engage with?” Schill asked. “Absolutely not. We could never get away with noticing something the way they did.”
But Schill said the basic needs program was important.
Other board members wondered if ASUO was doing surveys and other scientific methods to gauge student support.
UO Vice President for Student Life R. Kevin Marbury said ASUO government doesn’t make these financial decisions on a whim. The student government has committees and subcommittees to analyze finances. He then directed the board members to visit the ASUO’s website to see the legislative process.
The board passed the resolution with one “no” vote from the student trustee, Katharine Wishnia.
In the university’s official blog AroundTheO, officials have said football bowl games are recruitment tools. When the Ducks went to the 2020 Rose Bowl, the UO spent $35,825 for a recruitment event in Santa Monica, according to records obtained by EW. Costs included $11,065 for mailing recruitment letters to potential students, $20,695 for hosting the event and $4,064 for travel expenses.
Without the allure of football tickets paid for through incidental fees, Jarvis says the university doesn’t anticipate a decline in recruitment without the free football and basketball tickets. And Autzen Stadium will still designate the slim corner of the westside touchdown zone as the student section.
Boyd says he knows that football tickets help with recruitment, but the basic needs program could help with it, too. “I would think the university would want to market the programs that we’ve developed as a new way of recruiting,” he says. “It’s a way of looking at it through a new lens.” ν