This item originally appeared in the May 5, 2005 issue of The Tech Talk.
By BRIAN TYNES
University officials are waiting to hear how a student-assessed fee can be spent.
Last May, students voted on a $25 fee increase per quarter with $10 per student going to the athletic department. Approximately $300,000 has accumulated from the fee and is awaiting approval from the Louisiana Board of Regents on its use.
"Right now there's still some uncertainty at the Board of Supervisor level as to how that money can be spent for athletic programs," Tech Athletic Director Jim Oakes said. "We have not spent any of it because of that uncertainty at this point. We're allowing the money to accumulate and allowing the board to better define how the money can be spent, so until some of those questions are answered, it's really inappropriate for us to spend the money."
Tech President Dr. Dan Reneau said some of the money can be spent now.
"The Regents have a cap on how much money the university can transfer to athletics," Reneau said. "That cap is roughly $2.75 million. They have made a rule after these fees were passed that if it is spent for normal athletic expenditures, it has to fit within that cap.
"We're hoping it will be in excess of the cap, but we haven't been successful yet. To me, this money needs to be over the top and used for special things. That's the way I'd like for it to be used, but whether it can be or not, we'll see. I just don't want to spend it frivolously."
One immediate plan, Oakes said, was in place is to change the grass in Joe Aillet Stadium to artificial turf.
"We would like to [install field turf] at some point, because that would give us the capability of having more events occur in the stadium, including intramural contests," Oakes said. "But that's just one item -- we have a need to upgrade scoreboards and we would like to have video boards in both Joe Aillet Stadium and Thomas Assembly Center.
"There are so many issues that surround the installation of a turf field that there are still unanswered questions about the total cost of a project like that, and it's hard to pinpoint an exact figure. I think it is wise for us to let the funds accumulate until we have the means to spend it in a meaningful way for both the athletic program and the student body."
Reneau said the field turf has already been purchased, but the university has not been able to install it.
"We have bought the turf, but it looks like it's going to cost $300,000 to put it down, except we don't have that money right now," Reneau said.
Both Reneau and Oakes said it is a struggle for Tech to maintain a viable, competitive athletic program with budget constraints.
"What states are putting into athletics exceeds what Louisiana is allowed to do, so we're getting more and more at a competitive disadvantage," Reneau said. "We have been [remaining competitive]; I'm just worried about down the road. I think it's magnificent our student body voted this. It's needed if we're going to remain competitive in athletics, we'd just like to have more flexibility in how to spend it."
Oakes said continuing to compete is not without a price.
"The cost of doing business in college athletics increases every year like the cost in any business and we need to generate additional income to compete for championships in the [Western Athletic Conference] every year," Oakes said. "Our needs range from increasing funding for recruiting to making facility improvements, and we need to maintain a competitive salary structure for coaches. The cost of travel increases every year."
But Oakes said fee money would not be used to pay coaches.
"We will continue to use our operating budget and some of our outside fundraising for that purpose," Oakes said. "And we won't spend any of it without real input from the student body through the [Student Government Association]. We've created a real strong partnership with the SGA and we certainly want to continue."
Tech head baseball coach Wade Simoneaux said his program could find some uses for the money.
"We could definitely use the help with just simple things like a new computer in our press box and new washer and dryer," Simoneaux said. "We have to haul our stuff every night to the TAC to get it washed over there. We, as players and coaches, raise a lot of money for facility improvements, and that could go into more baseballs and bats and stuff that we need for our guys to be successful on the field."
Simoneaux also said recruiting could be affected.
"When we go to recruit, a lot of [recruits] judge you not only by your academics and athletic achievements ,but your facilities mean a lot when a kid comes in and visits," Simoneaux said. "I'd like to see the whole athletic department get a facelift as far as new fencing, fresh paint and good edged grass. It helps when a guy drives into campus and sees that. But when they see chain-link fencing, worn-out windscreens and bushes and weeds, it's tough to convince them to come here."
Katie Westbrook, a member of the Lady Techster tennis team and a junior merchandising and consumer studies major, said she hopes the smaller sports are not overlooked.
"Softball, tennis and track all need better facilities, especially track because they do so well nationally," Westbrook said. "[Tech tennis] is one of the only teams in the state without stadium courts. Several schools have called and won't play here."
Regardless of how the money is spent, Oakes and Reneau agree there are many trials facing the program.
"We have a wide array of needs and several ideas how we'd like to see the money spent, but until such time as the board clarifies permissible means for spending the fee, we're going to let it accumulate," Oakes said. "We have a lot of challenges facing the athletic program and more needs than we have resources."