With a new head football coach for the Cavaliers and the UVA basketball team winning back- to-back Atlantic Coast Conference regular season titles, varsity sports at UVA are likely to attract more fans than previous years. But despite the great success of UVA’s teams, student fees still account for $13.2 million of the athletic department’s roughly $97 million budget.
As part of the University of Virginia’s nearly $28,000 in-state costs, students are charged an athletics fee of $657 a year—higher than the annual fee for student health. Not only is this one of the highest athletics fees at a public university, ranking No. 1 in the Power Five conferences, according to the Washington Post, but some students don’t even know they’re paying it.
Jessie Thuma, an out-of-state student attending UVA for her third year, says she was not aware of an athletics fee, but in comparison with the $35,000 she pays in tuition each year, $657 isn’t much.
“I go to athletic events more than I go to student health so I guess for me it kind of makes sense,” Thuma says, “But it’s kind of ridiculous for students with no interest in athletic events.”
For students at UVA, the mandatory athletics fee covers all student tickets to varsity sports, provided there are enough seats. In recent years, many students have been unable to get tickets to men’s basketball games because demand is so high.
Third-year Sarah Hilado says she’s been to 20 minutes of a football game the entire semester and works 15 hours a week to try and pay off the interest on her student loans.
“I get paid $660 a month, so I’d have to work an entire month to pay for a game that I don’t even go to,” Hilado says of the athletics fee.
She’s already accumulated $16,000 in debt from her student loans that she will be responsible for paying off.
“It bothers me how much they try to nickel-and-dime us,” Hilado says of her tuition, “and it makes me not want to give anything back to them.”
In addition to her high tuition, Hilado expressed resentment upon hearing that previous head football coach Mike London received a $2.7 million severance package.
“Why are they giving him so much money?” Hilado asks. “He’s leaving for a reason. We should have put that money to better use.”
Hilado notes that rather than have the university “throw” money at coaches, it should increase the pay grade for faculty and staff, saying they don’t get paid “nearly as much as they should.”
For Hilado, the perfect solution is to start charging students to attend athletic events, as is the case at the University of Alabama and several other schools with impressive sports teams. But for fans like Thuma, who enjoy sports but are tight on cash, charging for student tickets might be the end of their support.
Thuma says if student tickets were discounted, she might be okay with paying for entry, but depending on how pricey they were, she “probably wouldn’t go to athletics events.”
Expecting to graduate with between $40,000 and $60,000 of debt, Thuma has to work two jobs to pay for her living costs. In addition to groceries and a meal plan, this income covers Thuma’s spending money for the month—money she would have to use to attend sporting events if the athletics fee was not included in her tuition.
“I don’t mind having an athletics fee just because I like having the option of going to the games,” Thuma says.