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Fee Proposal at CSUN Approved : STEVE ELLING

March 10, 1995|TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — There was no bunting or party hats, but the mood at Cal State Northridge was definitely celebratory on Thursday night. Rightfully so, considering the stakes involved.

Student voters at Northridge passed on the third try a fee proposal that will hike their individual semester fees $27 to save the school's deficit-laden athletic department.

When results from three days of telephonic voting were announced in department headquarters following a men's volleyball match with USC, the collective glee of Northridge athletic administrators, coaches and athletes was palpable.

The measure will increase the athletic budget from $3.5 million to approximately $4.3 million annually and save several programs that were on the financial chopping block.

Proponents of the plan carried 63% of the vote, winning by a margin of 1,458 to 805.

Last fall, a similar measure narrowly failed, 2,315 to 2,116, in the largest election turnout in school history. A referendum also failed last spring.

The increase will take effect when the fall semester begins.

"I'm relieved more than anything else," CSUN Athletic Director Bob Hiegert said. "The key is that it's good for the university. We've always stood for having a broad-based program."

Under the recommendation of a three-member academic committee, four programs were outlined for elimination had the proposal failed--women's basketball, soccer, men's swimming and football. The school would have fielded 14 teams, the minimum required for membership in NCAA Division I.

"I think people realized that this was no bluff," Hiegert said.

"If we lost this time, the program was going to be very different."

Soccer Coach Marwan Ass'ad could barely conceal his joy. He slapped palms with coaches and players and immediately phoned home to give his family the good news.

He said his son Nick "wanted to know if his dad still had a job."

"There was never a doubt," Ass'ad said with a grin.

Officials plan to raise funding levels for all existing sports and add women's soccer as soon as next fall.

Another women's sport could be added by 1996-97, which would put the school in compliance with California State University gender-equity requirements.

Passage of the measure won't necessarily mean a boon for athletics, but it will give the notoriously underfunded Matador teams a healthy shot in the wallet. According to one administrative proposal, scholarships will increase in all sports, some by a considerable margin.

The women's basketball team, which currently receives 7.4 departmental scholarships, would receive 13.2 next season, which would allow coaches to use redshirt players and recruit out of state. Women's tennis would receive 4.5 scholarships, up from 2.7. NCAA maximums in women's basketball and tennis are 15 and eight.

Northridge avoided a budgetary pitfall that has resulted in the elimination of football at several Cal State sister schools.

In this decade alone, Fullerton, Long Beach and Hayward have dropped the sport. San Francisco State announced Thursday that it has dropped football while Cal State Sacramento has a referendum scheduled later this month that will decide the fate of its football team.

"It's a start," said football Coach Bob Burt, whose team receives just 17 scholarships. "It's a breath of life. Now we need some plasma."

Passage of the plan will allow the department to begin upgrading its substandard athletic facilities. Critics long have charged that low turnout at Northridge sporting events is partly attributable to the school's cramped, antiquated venues.

The referendum also should allay the fears of many prospective Northridge athletes. Recruiting slowed to a standstill while Northridge recruits in the sports targeted for elimination awaited the outcome of the tally. The school's Division I-AA football team, for example, has not signed a player in 1995.

After weeks in limbo, players in the sports outlined for elimination can finally breathe easily too.

"If there's anybody I really feel good for, it's the 45 guys we have here in the program," Burt said. "They didn't deserve to be in this position."

Relatively low voter turnout may have worked in the department's favor.

The department mounted a well-choreographed campaign during last fall's referendum, but it apparently stirred up enough backlash to cause defeat. This time around, athletes were asked to compile a list of 10 fellow students who were in favor of the referendum. Student names were cross-referenced.

President Blenda J. Wilson also gave athletics a boost last week when she announced her support of the fee measure. She had not voiced an opinion on the first two referendum attempts.

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