Student Fees Rule Everything Around Me

By Johnny Ginter on January 21, 2013 at 5:00p

The original intent of this post was for me to be Real Mad. I was going to rant about the various inequities in college sports funding, based mostly off the idea that athletic departments that take subsidies from their students and schools are gouging the very system and people that prop them up.

And, in a macro sense, this remains true. Alabama's athletic department, for instance, is heavily subsidized by the university but still took in easily $20 million in profit last year.


There is no real reason for them to take over $5 million from the university to fund their various sports programs, other than sheer greed and a desire to sustain spending.

But you know who doesn't engage in such noxious, underhanded behavior? That's right, The Ohio State University.

The shining university on a hill took no student fees and no money from the university to fund the athletic department, and hasn't for years. Not only that, but it's managed to ensure that almost all profits were put directly back into the department itself, helping to fund and improve the dozens of varsity sports that Ohio State sponsors on a yearly basis.

It's a noble enterprise, separate from the cluttered rabble that make up the large schools in the South.

So that's one way to look at it. Another, perhaps more accurate way to look at it is that Ohio State forces students into athletics fees that are even more burdensome than what you see in other colleges and universities that have subsidized athletic departments.

Is it for a worthy cause? Is the money being spent wisely? Yes and yes. But it might be time to get off our high horse and use its hooves for glue.

Last May, USA Today did a comprehensive study on the spending of 227 college athletic departments, and that's where most of the data in this article is drawn from. Their data is through the fiscal year of 2011, which while not ideal, gives a decent picture of the ideas that I'm talking about here.

Another caveat that I'm going to add is that on the face of it these issues matter mostly to the football or basketball fan; a student at Ohio State who has no interest in purchasing a football or basketball ticket can go right ahead and feel convinced of OSU's superiority to other schools, as their wallet and the university's sports programs are not connected in any way.

I'm guessing that not too many of them are reading this, but in a bit I'll get to why maybe they should.

Let's start with Florida, partly because they have a huge athletic department budget and also because as of 2011, they solicited millions of dollars in student fees (in addition to the $1.8 million they took from the university). As with every other school I'll discuss here, football is the primary revenue earner. It probably doesn't surprise anyone that Florida's $123 million in profits for 2011 didn't come from water polo, but I want to emphasize the importance of football ticket sales here.

In 2011, a season ticket for a student at Florida cost 105 bucks. If you divide the roughly $2.5 million in student fees by the roughly 50,000 students at the college, you get a student athletics fee of around 50 bucks. In other words, if you're a student who bought a season ticket for football in 2011 at the University of Florida, your total contribution to the athletic department was $155, give or take an accounting trick or two.

Another SEC athletic department, Alabama, took over $5 million from its university in "school funds" (which USA Today describes as "both direct and indirect support from the university, including state funds, tuition, tuition waivers etc.") but took no student fees. Alabama charges next to nothing for their student tickets, which means the $35 or so is usually all that the average student will contribute to the Alabama athletic department.

Hey someone found my money clip!

So, Ohio State.

Before I get into this, I want to point out that I'm not ignorant to the fact that OSU has a massive, massive athletic department to fund, and also that other unsubsidized athletic departments (particularly the one at the University of Texas, which closely mirrors Ohio State's) approach funding in essentially the same way that Ohio State does.

Not only do Ohio State students pay what amounts to an athletic fee through football ticket sales, but that "fee" is actually far more than what they'd likely pay should the university institute a student fee to help fund the athletic department.

Student tickets for the 2012 season were $272, or roughly $34 per ticket. That's less than half of market price, but it throws into sharp relief just how much money students at Ohio State give to the athletic department in relation to students at other colleges with major athletic departments, especially in the South.

Students at OSU also pay an involuntary student activity fee of $75 a year, which goes to fund various concerts, speakers, etc., meaning that when all factors and fees are considered, the student season ticket is essentially a smallish discount on the regular market price that the public receives anyway.

Interesting (and extremely irritating, if you're a student) is how OSU football ticket prices have increased in the past few years. It almost feels as if Ohio State's athletic department is starting to realize that instead of having their profits barely cover their expenses, as they've done in the past several years, they're starting to turn their attention to making a solid buck for their efforts. It will be something to monitor.

Two things now become apparent: first is that unsubsidized athletic departments like that of Ohio State are not doing their ticket-purchasing students some great favor by getting rid of student fees; they're still paying the equivalent of that by way of an inflated football ticket. We can get rid of that canard right now, and considering OSU charges students an involuntary fee for services and activities they may never use already, there's not a lot of moral high ground here.

Second, however, is that debate should be "Is it fair to charge student football ticket purchasers a high markup to make up for the lack of a general student athletic fee? Or conversely, what, if any, athletic fee is appropriate to charge a student who has no intention of going to an athletic event?"

It hasn't been a huge issue at Ohio State, but if the athletic department becomes increasingly focused on higher net profits, it's a debate that needs to be had.


Comments Show All Comments

UrbzRenewal's picture

Student tickets for the 2012 season were $272, or roughly $34 per ticket.

Depending on your ticket package, if you join Block "O", some of the money goes to us too. To fund things like t-shirt orders (>4000 per year), BuckeyeHeads, rally towels, and other things athletics makes us buy on our own. With such a massive budget, you would think they could put a little more towards the students, who are the atmosphere at football and basketball. The athletic department has a "fan experience" department, but to be honest, I'm not sure there's much energy outside of the students in football and more recently basketball. They're basically robbing the students and they make a hell of a lot of money as it is. 
OUAB takes a substantial chunk of the student activity fee, and they have a massive budget because of it. Guests that have been brought in recently with that fee include: 2 Chainz, Jim Gaffigan, Bill Nye, The League Live, and Nicholas Sparks.

cbusbuckeye's picture

Agree here. OUABand the MCEC is where most of the student activity fee goes, so adding that to the student ticket price is not really truthful. In addition to what Urbz listed the university has also brought in Skrillex, Weezer, John Legend, Aziz Ansari, The Daily Show, the Modern Family cast, Bethanny Frankel, Jack Hannah and Jay Bilas, not to mention countless others in recent years. So while it is a fee that students pay, it does not relate to athletics so much...and the $75 I pay per semester is more than worth it when it comes to the musicians and celebrities that the school brings in, as paying to see them on my own would cost substantially more. 

Citrus's picture

I think that $75 also goes to pay for the new Ohio Union which is really nice and I use all of the time.

bucknutz18's picture

OUAB and Block O might be the two worst student orgs on campus....And they are two of the largest and most prominent.  Block O might provide a couple thousand towels for the big game of the year but mainly are there to get on their god awful loudspeaker and do horrible chants that the vast majority of the students dont participate in...Maybe take some notes from PSU/Bama/Wisky who have really nice student sections...I for one don't complain to much about fball tik prices since Im such an avid fan and realize how much they are in the market.  but for the casual fan I could really see it being a burden.  I am more worried about the 6 noon games a year we seem to play at home.....

UrbzRenewal's picture

Wisconsin's student section is not led by anything, and we would go to that model, but our student fans aren't crazy enough to do it and it's a sportsmanship thing as well (evidenced by Wiscy's "eat sh!t, f**k you" chant). We're too quiet.
Also, we don't just support football and basketball, we support ~7 non-revenue sports that would not have an atmosphere if not for us (a good example is hockey). So before you say we're "the worst" perhaps you should really look at what we actually do. Our roots are in football, but a majority of our effort is elsewhere. Our games of the week for non-revenue sports draw 100-1000 students to events like gymnastics, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, and baseball.

Michael Citro's picture

As a university, it doesn't seem fair to ask students with no interest in athletics to fund athletics.

I don't know the answer to this, but have student ticket increases been disproportionate to total ticket increases? I've been to games 3 times in the 2000s but prior to that I hadn't been to one since 1995 and I was a bit surprised at how much they cost now, considering there more a lot more paying customers (via increased capacity).

dumpus's picture

same can be said about students who really have no interest in seeing Rusted Root on the south quad or some in-the-weeds defector give a talk about Tibetian independence having to cough-forth for the activity fund as well.  
some of the costs just come with the territory of attending a huge school...

cbusbuckeye's picture

See my post above, the university tries hard to bring in a wide variety of speakers/events, if you cannot find 1 person they have brought in that interests you, you may not have interests.  

dumpus's picture

agree completely.  I always used to run into students who said, especially around USG election time, that "they didn't get their money's worth."  that's BS...if you're a live sports fan, you've got the chance to see some of the best collegiate athletes play for next to nothing...if you're an athlete yourself, you've got state-of-the-art facilities at your disposal for next to nothing...if you're an egghead, you've got speaker series' that rival any of what TED or The Economist has to offer for next to nothing.  if you're none of the above, probably should have just went to U of Phoenix, because that's apparently the "college experience" you're really looking for.

theDuke's picture

I remember when I was at school they had Curt Vonnegut come and speak. One of his last ever. Still kicking myself for not having gone to see him. But I didn't miss a home game for four years either. 


buckeye4life050233's picture

the real problem lies with the fact that they don't give out enough student tickets to begin with, at least for the games where the students are in session.  they are more concered with the big dollar donors who get tickets and a) don't come to the games unless it is a big time game or b) come and don't cheer or get loud at all.  it's been very disappointing how calm that place gets where other places like wisconsin, penn state and some sec schools have the perfect balance of students that keep the atmosphere up, unless it is a complete blowout.  another thing was the lack of night games and or 3:30 games late in the year that at least have a night like atmosphere.  we had basically all noon games except illinois and nebraska. 

Citrus's picture

The $75 fee does not fund athletics and should not be lumped in with student ticket prices. Sure, my tickets are more than what someone at an SEC school pays but so what? They are half of market price and well worth it. I easily sell my tickets at a profit if I can't make a game.
Athletics should be kept seperate from University funds. If anything, some of the million sports that tOSU has should be eliminated and the money poured into the other sports or BACK INTO THE UNIVERSITY.

Also, I don't need a free foam finger or towel or whatever. If I want that stuff I will buy it.

WC Buckeye's picture

Also don't forget that there is almost always a surplus from the athletic department that goes back into the general fund to support all students. An argument could be made that the fees are an indirect tax, but that's another topic, and so is Title IX.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

steensn's picture

1) they can have lower ticket prices because they make all students pay. One student may ge it for $155 but the other is paying $50 to watch it on TV or to work on his thesis.
2) market price should always be had. There are enough well off students to pay full price for student tickets, no need for reduces prices. Sounds mean, but why not pay full price?

cbusbuckeye's picture

Full price would be more than $800 for the season if I understand your point. There aren't a whole lot of students who could afford that every year. 

dumpus's picture

because we aren't Michigan.  they effectively price their students out of tickets and fill the stands with old geriatrics who click their dentures at remembering the last time they won an outright championship.  makes for a great atmosphere, right?

DIRTYBUCK's picture

I can tell from your post you have never been to a game in the whore. Great atmosphere even when we are gut stomping them

southbymidwest's picture

I recall reading posts that UM students were being fussed at because they only showed up to the big games, like OSU. Otherwise, there were big gaps in the student sections.
Have seen other college ticket allocations. Some of them rely on lotteries, like at the SEC school older daughter attended. You dont know if you will get a ticket until the Tuesday of the week of the home game. You then have to pick them up from the ticket office by Thursday or you forfeit the tickets.
Thought I saw on here that OSU did not sell totally out their student ticket packages this year?

popeurban's picture

I could not disagree more.  What a sad sight it would be to only have the well-to-do students attending games.  I bought conference season tickets plus the extra first couple games every year, but I would have had a tough time justifying $800+ each year on my college budget.  

LABuckeye's picture

You can debate the subject until the cows come home (or Brady Hoke goes on a diet), but with the size of the user base at OSU there will always be some group unhappy with how things are priced and how money is spent. For what it's worth, I don't think the general student populace should be charged for athletics, but I'm not a student anymore so...

Brutus Greyshield's picture

What annoys me the most is that I don't think that they've fully grasped the idea that it takes money to make money (like the SEC schools have). The more money they put into football the more money the football team makes.

I know there's a point of diminishing returns, but I don't think we're even close to it. The football program's revenue potential has to exceed Alabama--Ohio State's fan base is bigger, the drawing pool for new fans is much deeper (in terms of students, alums, and in-state population). But Alabama makes more money because it's been winning more championship recently and one of the main reasons is that the university gives the football team enough money to hire and retain the best assistant coaches.

osu07asu10's picture

Honestlycouldn't disagree more. As an alumnus and a former poor college student, I get your side but you can spend your $272 get season tickets, sell 1 game, and see 6-7 games for $150. If you are upset about spending $150 a year to see 6-7 home games a year, I simply cannot accept that.
For everyone's knowledge, I'm paying $600 a MONTH to kill my $30k left in school loans, a hefty burden of that from tOSU....$272 for a season? Sign me up!

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

TheHumbleBuckeye's picture

Yeah, pretty much this.
Many of us alumni would kill just to have access to purchasing tickets. That was the best thing about being a student.  The fact that they were below half the face value (and wayyyy under actual market value, which is judged by the secondary market) was just icing on the cake.

dumpus's picture

its an incredible loss-leader for the school - had i not been able to go to pretty much every game i was conscious for, i likely wouldn't be nearly the OSU football fan I am today. I could bond better and stronger with tOSU being able to see games as a student there, and let football saturdays become an integral part of my student experience - which in turn makes me a sure-fire sucker for at least a thousand bucks worth of revenue for the school and the surrounding business/community each time I get to go to a game. 
i actually kinda-sorta think of it as a way of paying it forward, per se.  i am actually happy to see them keep student prices down in-part because of me paying more as an alumnus now - the more students get to have the same type of experience I had, the greater the chance of the circle remaining unbroken.

smith5568's picture

Arguing for some university wide fee in order to charge less for student tickets is simply asking other students who may not want to attend games to subsidize my attendance, which is bs.
I am extremely proud that the athletic department does not charge a fee to the student body and do not feel that the activities fee is even in the same realm and was more than happy to pay such a small amount for nifty little events and activities held around campus.  

Poison nuts's picture

S.F.R.E.A.M. Get the money - dolla dolla bill y'all!
/Wu Tang.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Rizzoni's picture

I don't agree with the premise. First, OSU students are not forced to buy tickets, and a good fraction does not. Second, the students seldom lose money on tickets. They usually sell one or more tickets in the open market, which more than pays for the rest of the tickets that they actually use. A good fraction of the student body even makes money by selling their tickets. So the actual money that flows into the athletic depart through ticket sales comes from the general public.

Buckeye1996's picture

What's the annual tuition at OSU these days? I can't remember what I paid in the early 90s. I am a college prof at a university in NC and we charge more in fees than tuition. I think the in-state tuition here is about 10k (not living on campus) with half of that being fees. The universities are raising fees to cover costs since the states are trying to limit tuition increases.
Does OSU have any other fees to go along with tuition?

osu07asu10's picture

Is your university part of the NC state system? I got my masters at App and paid about 7,800 a year in state for tuition. The NC system, at least tuition cost, blows the state of ohio out of the water.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

Buckeye1996's picture

Yes. It is a state U. The tuition here is low but the fees double it. That how they get around the state limiting tuition increases.
How much is OSU tuition now? And how much in total fees? I swear I paid less than 3k a year in the early 90s (at least I think so). Well worth it in hindsight but the tuition seemed overwhelming then for sure.

Buckeye2005's picture

I went to OSU from 2001-2005.  Tuition was about $7800 my first year and about $9000 my last year.  Sometimes I think people get confused with overall cost (tuition plus rent/living expenses) compared to tuition costs alone. 
I also remember that OSU was a great value compared to other Ohio state schools.  For example, my sister went to Kent State and her tuition was much more expensive than mine. 
If I remember correctly, I never had to pay the fee that accounted for the RPAC.  Although I wish that facility had been there because we went to Jesse Owens which was adequate but not great. 

Buckeye1996's picture

Also. That is somewhat cheap for a graduate degree. It is about 16k a year here for in-state if you live off campus.
I was lucky enough to get an assistantship for my masters and PhD and paid $600 (in fees..ha!) a year for both degrees plus I got a stipend of about 10k a year to do grunt work. That was in the late 90s at South Carolina. Anyone looking to go to grad school should beg for assistantships. They are out there to be had. you just have to be a good student and johnny on the spot.

huber57's picture

Wow, I did not know student tickets were that much.  IN 1993, they were $60 for five games.  That is an increase of 9.9% compounded annually.  That is pretty steep but it seems to be in line with what the market will bear.

Why does Dublin have so many round-abouts? Because everyone in Dublin thinks they have the right-of-way.

TheBadOwl's picture

$75 per year is totally worth it for the OUAB events, even the ones I don't go to, because it allows me to name drop countless "cool visitors" to my friends at other universities, to convince them of our superiority.
Are the football/basketball tix overpriced? To a lot, yeah, but to me, it's worth every penny.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

Grant Miller's picture

I always tell people the price of our student football tickets and every time I am met with looks of amazement. Sadly, it's never going to change. We all consistently pay them the money so why would they stop now?

osu07asu10's picture

Amazed by the low price? I agree, $275 for 8 home games is a steal.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

smith5568's picture

Comparing the price of OSU student tickets to many other schools student ticket prices is comparing apples to oranges. As an OSU student you are paying about half of face value for Ohio State football tickets. Judging by the prices charged on the secondary market, the market for OSU football tickets will bear much higher prices than $34.
We are lucky the University doesn't charge more because currently they are not even remotely close to price discriminating and capturing all of their consumer surplus.   

Citrus's picture

If anything football should be subsidizing the university, not the other way around. At tOSU that is the case. Buckeyes football has helped make tOSU a national brand. It provides me enjoyable Saturdays and makes my degree worth more- while funding countless other sports. I am proud of that. The football team is simply the most visible part of tOSU, but academics and research are out there kicking butt too.
Soon we will be kicking around SEC teams on the football feild as much as in the lab.

mtharp's picture

I agree with many parts on each side of this argument. I believe the student ticket prices are fair and the general public would kill to get such a deal.  I also remember being on campus and not having a ticket to that weeks game and not being able to sit at home and watch it because TWC had not signed up with BTN yet.... Its all about the money one way or another

BuckeyeDave's picture

Not that it is important since you are only discussing relative costs but you also have to look at value etc.  
A student season ticket at Alabama is extremely inexpensive but for that you get "general admission" seating between the goal posts and the 5 yard line on the SW corner of the stadium.  That is it.  There is no seat improvement for being a senior v a freshman etc.  This means no tailgating, no going to Skull Session (if their band was smart enough to have something like this).  Nope, you want a decent spot for the game you are in your seats 2 hours before kickoff just waiting.
Basketball tickets used to be free, but again were first come first served.  They set aside about 4000 tickets for a 20,000 student campus and if you wanted a ticket you had to get there early.
I transferred from Alabama up to Ohio State and while I might have grumbled a bit at the cost of my tickets, that all ended once I saw my seat.

Buckeye80's picture

The price the general public has to pay to get tickets is extremely high.  Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but you have to donate around $1500 just to get a chance to buy tickets.  If it wasn't for stubhub and ebay, I would have never been able to go to a game. 
For that reason, I am grateful to people that sell their tickets, but I personally have a hard time feeling bad for the fees a student pays.  I would just consider it part of the normal fees of being able to attend a great university like Ohio State.  Especially when I think of the number of students (and faculty for that matter) that get their tickets with the sole purpose of turning a huge profit.
Once again these are just my opinions as someone who wasn't lucky enough to attend The Ohio State University.

AC1972's picture

I just makes more sense to charge higher ticket prices for student tickets than to add on a fee for all.  If you want to go to the games, you pay the price. 
When it gets to expensive for students, they don't buy.  when they don't buy, alumni, etc. snatch it up at a more expensive price.
It's a squeeze on the students-fans to some extent, but I always managed to come up with the $$ for fball and bball tix...I would even go w/o beer!