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Will CSUN Students Sit on Sidelines in Election? : Vote will decide on fee increase to support athletic department

October 09, 1994

If things go according to form, the vast majority of an electorate in money-conscious Southern California will pass up a chance next week to vote on a 148% tax increase for a government activity that appears to mean little to most of them.

Cal State Northridge students will decide Oct. 18 and 19 on a "tax" increase in the form of a higher activity fee. The fee, now $33 a semester, would balloon to $82, with most of the $49 increase used to keep CSUN's big-time sports healthy.

Relatively big-time, that is, and relatively healthy.

Five years ago CSUN moved into college sports' highest competitive rank, Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. It holds its own in sports such as baseball, softball and men's volleyball, doing less well in football, where it's in a less-demanding subcategory called Division I-AA, and in basketball, where it plays big schools but often loses.

Even little-big-time sports cost money, however, and CSUN's chronically strapped athletic department says it desperately needs an infusion of cash. It has been warned to expect a drop of $700,000 next year in its $3.6 million budget. The fee increase would raise about $2 million for 1995-1996 and would bring CSUN's sports budget to about $5 million.

Nothing, including this vote, will make CSUN a gridiron powerhouse, but the election is important to the future of CSUN athletics. At the same time, from the "taxpayer" viewpoint, $98 a year is real money to a lot of CSUN students. Nearly half are part-timers and 70% hold jobs. For less money, San Fernando Valley adult voters have twice rejected hiring more police officers. Yet a big question hanging over this election is: Will most voters sit it out?

A reason for pessimism is a campus election this past spring on essentially the same issue. The fee increase lost 993 to 906, with about 8% of the students casting ballots. (The deciding votes came from the campus in Ventura, where the higher fee lost 118 to 14.) Athletes were campaigning for "yes" votes all over campus last week, with unknown impact.

Further uncertainty surrounds the election because it will not be held at ballot boxes but over the telephone. Students will dial a number, punch in personal identification numbers and touch-tone their verdicts. It seems odd to decide a crucial question using a new technique with an apparently high potential for foul-ups. PIN numbers, mailed days ago to students' homes, can also be picked up from a campus office, but who'll bother?

On the other hand, a homecoming king and queen will be picked in the election; maybe they have coattails.

To the other big question--what's at stake?--the answer isn't clear because officials won't predict the exact outcome if students turn thumbs down. Scholarships in at least some men's sports would be cut. Women's sports are safer, because CSUN, for legal reasons, must bring male and female athletics into parity.

A possibility being frankly considered: Kill football, the most expensive sport. On the one hand it has glamour and tradition on its side, not to mention the theoretical potential for making CSUN famous. But it's the sport at which CSUN is least likely ever to be among the best. Plenty of regional universities like Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach have survived its departure. And CSUN is not exactly football-crazy. Game attendance is usually about 3,000.

Proponents will argue that sports add an intangible but important ingredient to the college experience, giving alumni a link with one another and the school and, on a more practical plane, making their alma mater slightly less obscure to strangers.

It's the students' call. They will listen to the arguments. They will weigh up their interests. They will peer into their wallets and their hearts, and they will exercise their democratic right accordingly.

Or will they?

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