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CSUN Athletes Enter New Arena--That of Politics : Referendum: As primary beneficiaries, they stump for ballot measure to increase student fees; monies would be used to underwrite school's sports programs.

October 06, 1994|STEVE ELLING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Georgetown, Notre Dame . . . and Cal State Northridge?

It's a stretch--a big stretch--but school athletic officials hope that if a fee referendum is passed by student vote Oct. 18-19, the Northridge name might someday be linked with NCAA powers.

But first, there are pressing money matters to address. And that means student-athletes are spending time pressing palms with students.

Milling about under a tent on campus Wednesday were several Matador athletes, distributing literature and campaigning for the proposal.

"I definitely hope it passes," said Trenton Cross, a member of the men's basketball team. "I'm only a freshman and I'm going to be here a while."

The referendum, if approved, would raise semester fees from $4 to $49 per student, those monies earmarked for athletics. Monday, the department kicked off its campaign in earnest.

Cross was one of at least two-dozen athletes who took an afternoon turn in the tent, pitched just outside athletic department headquarters. The tent was erected Monday and different promotional handbills are being distributed daily.

The information contained in the literature isn't exactly news to the athletes. Last month, the worst-case scenario associated with the referendum's defeat was mapped out during a meeting with Athletic Director Bob Hiegert.

Hiegert said the program, with a budget of $3.6 million, stands to lose as much as $700,000 next year. The fee referendum would generate approximately $2.25 million annually and much of the revenue would be used for scholarships. Hiegert said each team--except the football team--would carry the maximum allowable number of scholarships.

If the referendum fails, Northridge could be forced to slash programs, including football, and might drop from NCAA Division I to II.

"If it passes, the program is in good shape," Cross said. "If it doesn't, uh-oh."

Athletics officials have emphasized the payoff for students in the campaign, citing free admission to games and association with a school with a national athletics identity.

Students who listened to the athletes' pitch Wednesday seemed receptive--though there will be a price.

"I'm voting yes," said Nathan Miller, 21, of Granada Hills. "I've got a couple of more years left, but I think it's important to have a football team."

In Miller's case, mission accomplished.

"We're trying to impart that athletics is a recognition thing that is important to everyone," said Brian Swanson, an associate athletic director charged with running the promotional campaign.

"When you say 'Notre Dame,' you think of football. You say 'Georgetown,' you think basketball. Those are solid academic schools, but people generally associate them with their sports programs."

Athletics officials are trying to learn from last semester when a similar referendum was voted down. A lopsided vote from a satellite campus in Ventura doomed the proposition to defeat.

It marked the first time the Ventura campus voted in a school election, Swanson said. Northridge, which plans to campaign in Ventura, also might offer Ventura students a shuttle service to selected on-campus games as an incentive.

Athletes are handling most of the stumping and several already have appeared before campus clubs. Quarterback J.J. O'Laughlin spoke to the Surf Club on Tuesday and receiver Duc Ngo is scheduled to speak with the Vietnamese Students Club. Others have been instructed to give informational speeches in their academic classes.

Those making speaking appearances are given a handout outlining the details of the referendum and its possible impact. Included in the "script" is a breakdown of what $49 buys these days:

-- A Saturday night date;

-- Four compact discs;

-- A new outfit;

-- A big milkshake (per week).

The punch line follows in the form of a question--Is Northridge athletics worth essentially one milkshake per week to maintain?

Each of the school's approximately 325 athletes has been asked to recruit 10 students to vote in favor of the plan. The request is not exactly voluntary. Each was given a sheet on which to list those students' names and phone numbers.

Last spring, Swanson said, approximately 2,000 of the school's 26,000 students cast ballots and the referendum lost by fewer than 100 votes. The athletic department is making considerably more noise about the issue this time around.

"A lot of the people who stopped by (the tent) said they will vote for it this time because they know where the money's going," Swanson said. "I'm not sure that was the case last time."

Then again, student apathy being what it is, the campaign is something of a calculated risk.

Registration each semester already runs $958 for state residents enrolled full time. If enough students are aware of the issue and its cost, they might just vote it down.

"We talked about that," Swanson said. "It comes down to the fact that it's a student program. . . . They need to make the decision."

If the proposal passes, it could be a boon for athletics, which would then use private donations to upgrade facilities. More teams also would be established, Hiegert said.

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