A Brief History of Athletics

Posted by: | October 24, 2008 | 2 Comments

This post was written by Neal Yonson, a chemistry graduate student who sits on the University Athletics Council and a committee looking at NCAA membership. Hopefully, this will provide everyone with some valuable facts about Athletics and the fees you pay to them.

The Athletics and Recreation fee has been controversial ever since its introduction in 1985. As a fee imposed by the Board of Governors, there has been very little student input into the collection of this fee, the amount charged, or its uses. As a result, it has increased by a monstrous 481% over a 23 year span. This is the equivalent of a yearly compound increase of 8% for more than two decades. Of the approximately $5.8M that will be collected this year on behalf of athletics, 80% or more will go into the Varsity program to benefit a few hundred students, leaving only a small contribution to serve the recreation needs of the many thousands of UBC students who play intramurals, go to the aquatic centre, work out at the Birdcoop, or go to drop-in at the SRC.


The AMS made an agreement with the university to collect and hand over a “Student Athletic Fee” of $5 per student. As part of this agreement, the university agreed not to increase the athletics fee without a student referendum (which did occur in 1977 to raise the fee to $7.)


Inevitably, the university eventually decided to institute its own $32 athletics fee. Despite being called the “Student Activity Fee”, it was clearly an Athletics fee, described in the 1985/86 calendar as being “used to support athletic and recreation programs and facilities.”

At the time, the AMS got legal advice that UBC was in breach of the 1968 contract: in order to impose this fee, the university should have had to go through an AMS referendum. Instead of suing UBC, the AMS exec ran a referendum (after the fact) which failed due to lack of quorum. Despite never having been approved by students as was supposed to happen, AMS council eventually accepted the $32 fee in exchange for seats on the University Athletics Council.


Starting at $32 in 1985, the fee increased irregularly, reaching $48.60 in 1992/93. At this time, UBC was looking to make Athletics a full ancillary and cut off all GPOF funding. To do this, they would need to raise the Student Activity Fee substantially to ensure UBC Athletics would still have a reliable source of funding. For the 1993/94 school year, in exchange for increasing the Student Activity Fee by $30.76, UBC agreed to reduce tuition by 1.68%, a decrease of $31.20 for a student taking a full course load. Sounds quite reasonable, right?

At the very same meeting, the board then decided to increase tuition fees by a quite unreasonable 11.9%, which was also applied to the whole amount of the (now increased) Student Activity Fee. The original $30.76 increase became $40.20. To make matters more complicated, the government at the time instructed UBC to cap tuition increases at 9.75%. In order to claim that UBC was within the government’s guidelines, President Strangway presented numbers which entirely ignored the promised 1.68% tuition offset. In effect, the tuition offset was cancelled (though the cancellation was never stated) but the $40.20 (83%) increase in the Student Activity Fee still went through.


Two years later, another large increase was proposed. The rationale was the same: increase student fees to reduce GPOF input into Athletics. In exchange for a $27.95 increase, another tuition offset was proposed. The increase in tuition fees would be $1 less per credit than planned, a savings of $30 for a student taking a full course load. This tuition offset did occur as planned. After the $27.95 increase was tacked on, another 3.5% yearly increase was applied to the whole fee, bringing the total growth this year to $32.07.

From $48.60 in 1992 to $125.22 in 1996, the Athletics and Recreation fee increased by over 250% in just 4 years.


In 1996, the BC government put in place a tuition freeze. Regardless, the fee went up $5.03 in 1997. However, by 1998 UBC had discovered, by way of a lawsuit, that ancillary fees were also subject to this fee freeze. The one way around this was that students could raise their own fees via a referendum. Maria Klawe, then-VP students of UBC, visited the AMS and asked them to raise their athletics fee for Athletics’ benefit. The AMS did put forth a referendum to introduce a new athletics and intramural fee (on top of an already existing $6 fee for intramurals). The new fee would start at $3 and go up by $3 each year for a period of 5 years, rising to $15 per student per year. It passed, and when added to the old $6 fee resulted in the current $21 AMS athletics and intramural fee.


The year the tuition freeze was lifted, the Athletics and Recreation fee went up 18.9% ($24.66). UBC Athletics used the argument that the fee had been frozen for 6 years as justification for the large increase. In reality, thanks to the 1997 increase and the 1998 AMS referendum, Athletics’ revenue from student fees had increased for all but the first year of the freeze. In fact, the AMS fee also had its last $3 increase that year; Athletics was double dipping in a big way.


In the five years since, there has been an increase every single year, although the rates of increase have been limited to 5% or less. These have been the highlights (or lowlights) of the athletic fee, which, with the exception of tuition freezes, goes up every year come hell or high water. It goes up even while user fees are being increased. It went up drastically despite the AMS raising their fees for Athletics’ benefit. It is still supposed to go up despite Athletics projecting multi-million dollar surpluses. Where will it end? That is a question I am hoping to find an answer to.

I’d like to give an enormous thank you to AMS Archivist Sheldon Goldfarb, whose assistance has been invaluable in researching this post.


2 Comments so far

  1. Yonnnnnnnnaaaayyyyy!!!!! on October 24, 2008 6:09 am

    A final, special note for the UBC baseball team, whose members are falsely claiming that the fee will not go up if we go to the NCAA. This is a misconception. UBC Athletics has never talked about freezing the athletics fee. The plan, as outlined by Bob Philip, is for the fee to continue increasing no matter what happens (despite huge surpluses, as I have mentioned).

    The confusion around this issue is a semantic issue. While the Athletics fee will more than likely continue to rise, Athletics is saying that the NCAA will not be used to justify the increase.

    Of course there is one vital piece of background information: Athletics has never provided justification for fee increases in the past. So their promise to not use NCAA as a justification for raising fees is quite silly when they provide no justification, ever.

    -Neal Yonson

  2. Milan on October 24, 2008 1:58 pm

    As I have said before, paying the fee should be entirely voluntary. As a former UBC student, I really see no value added to the student body at large as the result of even having a varsity sports program.

    If teams can find corporate sponsors, fine. What doesn’t seem appropriate is making all students subsidize something of such dubious value.

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