UC Office of the President and the UC Santa Cruz Chancellor’s Office approved a final student fee referendum to fund NCAA athletics. After a previously failed referendum in 2015 and a successful opinion poll in 2016, this is the program’s final chance to approve a new budget or have all NCAA sports cut within a year.
The current approved language was written in collaboration with the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports (OPERS), the Academic Senate’s special committee on athletics and the Alumni Council. The group agreed on a plan which includes a student fee of $38.50 per quarter — totaling about $2 million annually — for 25 years.
If the referendum does not pass, UCSC will be the only UC without NCAA sports. All UC campuses currently have student fees to fund athletics, with many set above $100 per quarter. Compared to other UC budgets however, “we are the lowest of the lowest by far,” said Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) president and junior men’s soccer player Luke Pfeiffer.
OPERS athletic director Andrea Willer attributed the university’s new interest in contributing to sports to interest from outside groups like the Alumni Council and the Academic Senate’s special committee on athletics.
“[The outside interest] brought a lot of credibility and legitimacy to not only the department but also the business department moving forward,” Willer said. ”It really broadened the conversation and allowed us to have a campus-wide conversation.”
The Alumni Council, in particular, has pressured the university to retain NCAA sports, citing concern that a loss of sports would hurt the recruitment efforts and reputation of UCSC.
“The council received several letters of concerns from [alumni], voicing that they felt that they would not support the university moving forward without sports,” said Alumni Council representative Paul Simpson.
Typically, referendums can be approved for a place on the spring ballot either by Student Union Assembly (SUA), all ten college senates or a signed petition by 10 percent of the student body. The NCAA, however, had to receive special approval from the chancellor’s office to earn a spot in the spring, due to delays in approval.
Initially, the NCAA wanted to create an endowment to have funds after the referendum’s future sunset and “to find more creative ways to reduce the burden on the students,” Willer said. The UC Office of the President rejected these plans, however, and said it was atypical for UC student referendums.
The Student Fee Advisory Committee (SFAC), a panel of students who advise the student body on student fees, also voted to abstain from endorsing an early draft of the NCAA referendum in February. Some SFAC representatives questioned if NCAA sports were important enough to the student body to merit a student fee.
Despite its difficulties, the referendum narrowly made the ballot. NCAA sports will need 66 percent of the student body to approve the referendum in spring elections to pass. OPERS, the Academic Senate Committee and the Alumni Council have spent the past two years adapting the language to appeal to the student body.
“Last year’s opinion poll seemed to energize the student body […] It was a record voter turnout,” Simpson said. “Students were very clear to us that they did not see the yes vote last year as a yes to enact a $90 fee, they just felt that the process should be allowed to play out and students should have a say in this.”
Changes from the earlier referendums include reducing the fee from $90 per quarter to $38, a plan made possible by a $500,000 contribution from the campus’s central funds.
The new referendum will also set aside 8 percent of funds — about $160,000 — toward a new scholarship for Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) students, who represent 40 percent of the student body. This will allow EOP to allocate funds for low-income students to participate in club athletic sports, OPERS classes and outdoor activities EOP has implemented in its own programming to increase retention.
Student athletes will not be able to use any EOP scholarships toward costs of NCAA sports since DIII schools are prohibited from offering any form of NCAA athletic scholarships.
“We know that some of the most premium types of programs, not just sponsored by OPERS, but outside of OPERS, cost money,” said EOP director Pablo Reguerin in a speech to SUA. “That usually excludes students who are low income […and] are unable to participate. We would be using the funds to sponsor EOP students to participate in those programs.”
Both OPERS administration and NCAA students will be campaigning to gain support from all students. In an athletics town hall meeting on April 4, student athletes went over the language for the first time to address any concerns and plan student involvement in the campaign. Many student athletes were optimistic about the chance of the referendum passing.
“Spring quarter is going to be huge for SAAC,” said Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) president and junior men’s soccer player Luke Pfeifer. “[…] We are going to focus more on tabling outside of places like the libraries and the dining halls and we are going to be directly campaigning for the vote.”
Over the remainder of the quarter, student athletes hope to receive an endorsement on the language from the SUA, which will not make any official decisions until April 11. All 300 athletes are also expected to gather signatures from 10 percent of the student body and receive endorsements from all ten colleges. Rachel Carson College already endorsed the referendum.
Though the referendum does not need any of these students endorsements to move forward since it is on the ballot, the NCAA community is concerned it will have an even more difficult effort passing the referendum without any student endorsements. This would result in an end to the entire program.
“This one seems more organized and more interactive and they’re really trying to help students see that athletics can be really beneficial, not just pushing their referendum,” said senior women’s soccer player Rikki Porter. “We realized that you can’t do it without the students and we want to be in collaboration with the students.”