Hoping to tap an unmined source of revenue, the Clemson athletics department might join its peers by implementing a student tax to supplement its $72 million budget.
A plan to levy $350 annually beginning with 2015-16 freshmen would raise another $6 million a year as a brace for escalating expenses.
Currently, Clemson does not have athletics fees, and students can attend athletic events at no cost.
“We don’t need it now,” athletics director Dan Radakovich said. “It would be very disingenuous of us to say that because of our financial circumstance athletics needs this fee now.”
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Though an official proposal has not been tendered and additional fees require sanction by the board of trustees, conversations about the student fee began shortly after Radakovich arrived as athletics director nearly two years ago.
Angst percolated following an October meeting of the Athletic Council, a group comprised largely of faculty, students, staff and administrators serving in an advisory capacity and as bridge between athletics and academics. The confusion stemmed from a misunderstanding of who would pay the fee, the need and the timing.
“It’s about putting something into effect that will allow Clemson athletics to be strong for the next decade and beyond,” Radakovich said. “It is currently a revenue source that is not tapped.”
Most, if not all, members of the Atlantic Coast Conference levy student athletic fees. The University of Virginia generates $13 million annually from student fees, Radakovich said. Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech fall in the $7 million-$8 million range, he said, and Georgia Tech and N.C. State collect $5 million-5.5 million.
The University of Louisville, the newest member, collects fees and requires students buy their tickets.
University of South Carolina students pay $86 each semester, largely covering the cost to attend athletic events.
That would be another option, Radakovich said, though ideally the most expeditious plan would be the $350 levy. Current undergrad students would not be affected, and grad students could have an option to participate or not. Once the current population of approximately 17,000 undergrads turns over, Clemson athletics would realize its goal of $6 million.
Until an official proposal has been submitted by Clemson administration, board president David Wilkins was unwilling discussing the topic as a hypothetical.
“There have been no specification recommendations by the athletics director and no affirmative action by the board,” Wilkins said Monday. “This is not something that has been discussed formally by the board and I’m not going to get ahead of myself with speculation.
“It’s one of many things that’s debated from time to time, and sometimes you’re going to revisit those things and sometimes they never come back up. So right now it’s not been before the board and has not been since I’ve been chairman.”
Cathy Sams, speaking for Clemson president Jim Clements, said in an email the president was “aware of discussions.”
The athletics operating budget will likely finish the 2014-15 school year with a surplus. Radakovich anticipated steadily increasing costs in health care for student-athletes, employee benefits, travel in the expanded ACC and marketing potentially outstripping recent gains in tickets sales, donor levels and TV revenue.
Then there are the issues of remaining competitive in the new 65-team “autonomy group” comprised of College Football Playoff members. The University of Texas was willing to offer $10,000 to each athlete as a bridge for full cost of attendance. Reminding that scholarship costs are covered by IPTAY, Radakovich said the issue will one of many when the Athletic Council members meet in January, and whereever the number lands, “Clemson will be competitive.”
None of the money from students would be used for facilities, he said.
“We’re really doing our due diligence with the affected parties,” Radakovich said, characterizing six to eight conversations with student leaders over about 18 months.
“Nobody wants to add more fees, but I think athletics is an integral part of their experience at Clemson and they want to make sure that continues to remains strong,” he said. “It’s very different from some of the other places I’ve been before in my career where it was an absolute necessity to work with the student government to implement a fee right away to make some changes.
“We’re not in that circumstance at all.”