Sports’ fate in hands of student voters

Students are being asked to bear the weight of the athletics program at Chico State University. Supporters of the Athletics and Recreational Sports Fee Referendum, to be voted upon May 8-9, are hoping students will see $14 a semester as a small price to pay for keeping sports afloat amid a tightening budget.

The money would go toward teams that compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association, plus intramurals and club sports. It would pay for things ranging from coaches’ raises to offering even more activities.

Don Batie, Chico State’s athletics director, said it would be “absolutely devastating” if the referendum were to fail. “It would change a lot of cultures in this community,” he said, hoping that voters recognize the good of “healthy” activities. “If it wasn’t there, the bars would be a lot fuller, to be honest.”

Batie said the teams, which often reach the level of regional or national finals, have gotten even better in recent years as schools compete for top athletes.

To lose the added money, he said, would be “a giant step backward,” making it likely three of the 13 sports that fall under the NCAA would be cut, making Chico State barely eligible to compete in the division. Also, Batie said the approximately 7,000 students who take part in club sports, like the national-champion rugby team, pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege.

The problem dates to 1992, when then-President Robin Wilson took $1 million from the athletics budget to make up for state cuts in the general fund. Swimming, wrestling and women’s field hockey had already gotten the ax in the 1980s. Students quickly approved $40-a-semester fees to fund athletics and create a reserve, but, 10 years later, that has run out.

The programs combined cost $2.2 million a year, with $600,000 of that coming from the university’s general fund.

If the referendum passes, students would pay an additional $28 a year in fall 2002, plus up to $2 a year starting in 2003 depending on cost-of-living factors and continuing to ratchet up until 2009.

The Associated Students just held its general election in mid-April, leaving some students questioning why the referendum wasn’t included on that ballot.

“It’s the classic, ‘We don’t want anybody to know there’s an election except the supporters,” said former A.S. President Richard Elsom, who doesn’t question the need for increased fees but rather the way the referendum came about: “snuck in at the last minute,” with little publicity and polling places only in the gym and Bell Memorial Union.

Batie said it was just a matter of the timing of when it was known the university couldn’t commit any more funding. "We had to get a late start," he said.