Online students should not pay Athletics fee

Guido Gonzalez/PantherNOW

With a massive debt looming over their heads, FIU Athletics has chosen the worst way to make up for their mistake – punishing online students.

Starting Summer 2019, online students will pay an athletic fee of $16.52 per credit hour, in addition to a flat $10 athletic fee.

The fee was increased by 42 cents after a recent Athletics Fee Committee meeting on Thursday, May 2. The change is a response to the $3.5 million deficit Athletics is currently trying to pay off.

The committee, made up of Student Government members Peter Hernandez, Lorenzo Correa, Pamela Ho Fung, Mahalia Balfour and administrators Janie Valdes, Laura Dinehart, Danilo Le Sante and Anthony DeSantis, voted unanimously to raise the athletic fee and lower the activity and service fee. The plan to charge online students a per credit athletic fee had already been decided but only revealed to the committee during one of the meetings.

FIU Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell said that 70 percent of online students are from South Florida, so they would have access to games and other events the athletic fee covers.

However, this doesn’t mean online students are interested in attending these events; even students living on campus don’t attend games, leaving seats vacant and players upset.

Students who enroll fully online receive a package of FIU-related items in the mail. Peter Hernandez, the former vice president of the Student Government Council at the Modesto Maidique Campus, suggested that Athletics items such as shirts and sports gear should also be included in this package.

Hardly a fair trade, an online student taking 15 credits pays $257.80 in athletic fees and gets a “I bleed blue and gold” T-shirt in the mail.

The man behind this approved plan, Director of Athletics Pete Garcia, was in the hot seat just a few years ago. In 2016, before the hiring of head football coach Butch Davis, there were multiple campaigns to get Garcia out of FIU. Donors funded banners to hang and fly around the school calling for his firing and a twitter handle was created named @FirePeteGarcia.

Garcia’s reputation took an upward swing when he hired coach Davis whose salary costs the department almost $1 million a year. The hire pleased donors but the program continued losing money because of low attendance and an unprofitable television deal with Conference USA.

The athletics formula is simple, a good coach attracts good players, good players make a good team and a good team attracts students to the school and the stands. So it was a no brainer for Garcia to hire Davis, it is the only reason Garcia is still in his position.

His plan was to retire in summer 2018 according to The Miami Herald, but after a successful season with Davis, he signed a three-year contract extension. Garcia is in his 13th year at FIU and his contract lasts until 2021.

Davis is the highest paid employee at the university, his base salary was $945,000 last year with a bonus of $35,000, and raises 5% every year. This is more than the combined last base salaries of his two immediate predecessors, Ron Turner ($500,000) and Mario Cristobal ($453,183).

While the program has had two winning years under Coach Davis, losing in the Gasparilla bowl in 2017 and winning the Bahamas Bowl last season, the team has failed to garner the fanbase needed to fill Riccardo Silva Stadium, or even come close to it. The same goes for other teams.

Football is supposed to generate the most income at universities, but athletics isn’t making as much as they are giving.

The football program isn’t the scapegoat of Athletics’ problem, but it does spend more money than the next seven most expensive programs combined according to a 2016 Internal Audit.

Increased travel costs and having to foot the bill for the new recreation fields adjacent to the recreation center haven’t helped the deficit.

The problem is not one particular team, it is the Athletic department’s mismanagement of funds, and the burden should not be on online students to be the rope that pulls them out of the hole.

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