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Editorial: College athletic fees are unsportsmanlike conduct against students
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Editorial: College athletic fees are unsportsmanlike conduct against students

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James Madison has been a powerhouse in the FCS, but the Dukes are looking to move up to the same level as programs such as Alabama and Ohio State, which will bring higher costs.

The nation’s present and past college students owe about $1.72 trillion-with-a-T in their quest for higher education.

Where does the money go? Some of it goes where it should go. And some of it is earmarked for student athletic fees. Unfortunately, our state has some of the leaders in this dubious category. Virginia Military Institute ($3,340 per year) charges the nation’s highest fees. James Madison ($2,340) is third among U.S. colleges and universities.

What are student athletic fees? They are what many schools saddle their students with so they can field athletic teams.

Ironically, the more big-time the program at a school, the less each student pays. Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia have lots of revenue coming in from large stadiums and TV appearances, among other sources. Thus, U.Va. charges only $657. Tech bills its students $293, or less than one-tenth what a Keydet at VMI pays.

This is noteworthy at present because James Madison wants to go FCS (the category that includes Alabama, Oklahoma and Clemson, among others) in football. A perennial powerhouse at the less-prestigious (and less-costly) FCS level, the Dukes want to move on up. The move will mean more scholarship athletes and likely more travel, plus the other accoutrements that FBS schools feel they must provide to be competitive.

Kudos to then-state Del. Kirk Cox, who got a bill passed in 2015 that caps how much schools can soak their students for to help pay for a new football practice field or other amenities. At the FCS level, “only” 70 percent of athletic department money can come from student fees.

At the FBS level to which JMU aspires, it’s 55 percent, a lower percentage but a higher raw number since fielding an FBS team can be quite a bit more expensive. The school awaits legislative approval for its move upward.

Cox’s bill was passed after Old Dominion University went FBS. It is not exactly draconian. FBS schools have 10 years to reach the 55 percent level. In 2019, ODU revenue from student fees was still at 63 percent. Those fees are now $1,678. Yearly, more than $28 million is extracted from ODU students to support the athletic department

There are many problems with major-college athletics, but hardly anything is as unfair at the student athletic fees. If you matriculate at a college or university and never attend an athletic event, you are still on the hook. It is not optional. And without it, so many schools that want the perceived prestige of having an FCS or FBS football program would simply not be able to afford the luxury.

It would sadden many to see VMI, Old Dominion, William & Mary or James Madison drop football or play at a lower level. Which is worse, though, to step down a notch in football or give hard-pressed students a bit of relief by not making them carry their schools’ athletic departments on their already-overburdened backs?

Every time a college or university moves up a notch in football, rest assured that many millions of dollars will be sucked out of students’ wallets.

And that’s not right.

— The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star

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