Virginia House Bill 1897 and its affect on Longwood University athletes

On January 23, 2015, Virginia House Bill 1897 was passed. This house bill will cap the percentage of student fees spent on athletics in all Virginia intercollegiate athletics programs. In other words, schools such as Old Dominion, Norfolk State, James Madison University, and many other schools will have to depend more on fundraising and tickets sales and less on student fees. So what does that mean for Longwood?

Kirk Cox, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, introduced this bill. He was motivated by last year’s Virginia Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report on the cost of higher education in the state. According to wtvr.com, Cox seemed to be really concerned with some of the choices that these schools in Virginia have decided to make.

Here is a timeline from when the bill was first introduced to after it was passed:

As you can see, this has been a very long process as I’m sure the decision was a hard one to make.

Being a father of four sons, Cox has expressed his feelings for creating this bill as a parent. On his website, he explains how proud he is of his children, but also worried about the increasing costs of higher education. He also expressed how Virginia has some of the best schools in the world, but the increasing costs are making it hard for rising college students to attend them.

“The access and affordability of college for students has really gotten out of hand,” Delegate Kirk Cox said.

WTVR also mentioned that Cox said some schools’ decision to move to Division One over the past several years drove up the athletic cost.

When the bill was first introduced, there were worries that this would affect Longwood tremendously, especially since all of the athletic teams here do not offer each player on the team full scholarships. Being a student athlete myself, I was a little worried too because I didn’t know what this “house bill” could mean for my team. Do we travel less? Does someone get his or her scholarship taken away? Where will my team get money? Since I was on a team that offers full scholarships for 15 people, I honestly thought this House Bill would affect my team tremendously. I had the opportunity to talk to Ken Copeland, Longwood’s vice president of administration and finance since July 2012. He gave me a lot of information on this house bill and what it meant for Longwood.

“No changes have been instituted regarding tuition and fees as a result of the HB 1897,” said Copeland. “The bill doesn’t require fees to be lowered — it requires that schools not exceed certain percentages of expenditures being funded by student fees (also referred to as comprehensive fees).” For Longwood, the percentage of expenditures for athletics that can be paid by student fees is 78% and this bill will be effective starting July 1, 2016. Copeland also mentioned that athletics would be funded in the same manner as in previous years. “We just have to ensure that our expenditures for athletics don’t exceed the student fee revenue threshold of 78%.

That being said, I think a lot of people have been confused on what this House Bill actually does. This House Bill does not necessarily take money away from the athletics department. This house bill will be putting a “cap” on student fees and it will force to not go over 78% of student fees.

Now I know the sound of a “house bill” sounds somewhat intimidating but if you think about it, it’s actually helpful. Every school in the world needs some structure and rules to go by just to make sure a school is doing its best. Although some of the schools in the world have more money, a bigger population than others, a limit on student fees will not technically hurt a school, but help it.

Being a smaller school definitely has some impact of how much money a school earns each year. Since the population here at Longwood or over at ODU is not as big as Kentucky or the University of North Carolina, there are not as many students to bring in money as a whole. Schools have to realize that athletics is not the only thing that needs to be funded at a school. There are classes, organizations, events, and other important things that come out of students’ tuitions.

So what does this entire mean for students? Does their tuition decrease or stay the same? What will the university do with student fees that are not being used for athletics? Copeland stated that the goal of the legislation was to try to keep cost escalations for students across the Commonwealth from spinning totally out of control. “I think students will benefit over time. But also keep in mind that the cost of running a college or university escalates every year. “

There are many students that think that this bill will not benefit them at all. “I still think our tuition is going to increase if not, stay the same,” said Sydni Johnson. Johnson is a third year student here at Longwood and she mentions her thoughts about sports here. “Our fees that go towards sports is really expensive but I don’t complain about it because I think sports are a big thing at schools. It brings every one together.”

Compared to these other Virginia colleges, Longwood does not have as many sports teams as others. As of now, Longwood does not have football team, men’s lacrosse, track and field, swimming, rowing, wrestling, or volleyball. By ODU, NSU, and UVA having more sports than Longwood, it causes them to lose a percentage of student fees for athletics. Many people complain about not having a football team here, but it is actually benefiting other sports here at Longwood.

This graph shows what the limits of students’ fees will look like after Cox’s bill passes:

As you can see in the graph above, schools such as Longwood and William & Mary have a higher percentage of student fees used because neither one of them have a football team.

Funding a football team is not as easy as it seems. You have to find funding for the team, the stadium, the travel expenses, and other things dealing with football. It is not an easy process and it would cause the percentage of student fees on the athletics department we have now to decrease tremendously.

“I don’t have a problem with the house bill at all. I don’t think anything is going to change for the athletics department here at Longwood. A “cap” or a limit is something every school needs so it won’t seem like all the school cares about is athletics because that is definitely not the case,” stated Libby Morris, a softball player here at Longwood.

Another school being affected by this House Bill is the University of Virginia. UVA is in the ACC, also known as the Atlantic Coast Conference. Old Dominion is apart of the C-USA, which is Conference USA. Norfolk State is apart of the MEAC, which is Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The ACC is considered to be one of the six collegiate power conferences, which means that receive more media coverage than other conferences such as the MEAC, C-USA, and the Big South. Since UVA is apart of the ACC, they play bigger schools such as Louisville, Duke, and UNC. By them being bigger schools, the school earns money for playing these big schools so the football team is actually bringing money in to help add to costs.

According to the Rotunda, documents provided by Longwood University showed that the department’s total operating revenue in 2013–2014 was $9, 774, 504. 86% of those fees were generated from student fees. In 2009–2010, four-year colleges in Virginia charged more than $1,000 per student in annual athletic fees, which sounds RIDICULOUS. Coming from a student-athlete that has school paid for, I don’t think that is fair for students at all. In most cases, there are students at these schools that don’t attend any of the sporting events that are going on at schools. I think that is a huge factor here because a lot of students can argue the fact that they do not attend these because they don’t think their school’s team is good. Personally, I never knew how much of student fees were going towards athletics but after doing a lot of research I found out that Kirk Cox has a point to be made.

So what happens if a school decides to violate this prohibition? According to Virginia Legislative Information System, a school that violates this House Bill has to submit a five-year plan for coming into compliance to the General Assembly. However, intercollegiate athletics programs have the chance to change the division level that they are in. But there are some schools that are still looking to jump to higher conferences.

For example, JMU is looking to move to C-USA for football. According to hamptonroads.com, instead of being allowed to fund 70 percent of their athletic programs with student fees, JMU officials would be forced to drop to 20 percent. After doing more research on JMU’s football program, this bill could potentially cause JMU to make up for about $3 million in funding. This year, JMU students from both in state and out of state students paid $4, 256, which went towards athletics, the health center, and non-academic functions at the university. 31.3% of that money was used for athletics. If JMU plans on moving into C-USA for football, a lot of changes are going to have to be made.

“The student fees that go towards athletics are absurd, said Kendrick Pankey, a student from JMU. I love sports and I love to support my fellow Bulldogs, but I think the fees should decrease for students. I wouldn’t mind the fee if it wasn’t so high.”

After doing a lot of research of these schools being affected, I think there are ways the athletics departments at the school can find more funding. Although this approach is hard, removing some of the sports from the school could be a valuable thing to do. Some of these schools have rowing, sailing, and wrestling apart of the sports. Maybe one team is not as successful as another; a good idea would be to get rid of it. As far as the players on the team, the coaches can help them find a different school to go to. I know that sounds a little coldhearted, but if a school is a “football” focused school, removing a sports team would be questionable. ‘

Another approach is simply fundraising. Whether it is together or separate, each team should be looking to raise money from outside sources. Whether if it is a car wash, a camp for little kids, a huge picnic, — ANYTHING! Give back to the community and the community will give back to you.

Cox does not want to “kill” sports, but he wants these universities to actually sit there and think about students and most importantly the parents that are paying for these fees.

In conclusion, this house bill will be very beneficial for these Virginia intercollegiate colleges. Some say that it will hurt athletic programs; more specifically football teams but with outside fundraising that should be fine. This bill is not taking away all student fees from athletic departments, but capping the percentage and making sure everything else is being funded almost equally by student fees.

If each of these schools can follow their percentages from student fees, then there should not be any problems. If an athletics department starts to decline, some changes have to be made. It’s up to the community to come together to keep everything together. If a schools’ athletic department feels that they are declining, they must stand up, take action, and make a difference!

As for Longwood, as long as we don’t go over the 78% with student fees, the athletics department will never fail. Even though 78% is a lot to work with, we should still be working hard to earn extra money through fundraising. You can never have too much money!

“Longwood is currently well under the mandated percentage so there isn’t an imminent need to make changes in how we fund intercollegiate athletics,” Ken Copeland’s final remarks.

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