Will Sutton: UNO Football, band idea deserves another chance | Columnist Will Sutton

Not so long ago, the University of New Orleans was a bustling campus near the New Orleans lakefront. When what was then Louisiana State University opened in New Orleans in 1958, there were about 1,400 students. That number grew to over 17,000 students on Elysian Fields Avenue by 2003.

Today there are about 7,100 students, 77% from the New Orleans metropolitan area and another 10% from other parts of Louisiana.

That’s larger than a number of smaller colleges and universities in Louisiana. It is smaller than public higher education institutions in Baton Rouge, Monroe, Natchitoches and Shreveport. Each of the larger universities has a football program. Marching bands are an important part of student life and participation.

UN leaders urged students to consider a student improvement fee of $300 per semester for full-time students (less for part-time students) to support soccer, women’s soccer and women’s golf programs, and a marching band. The university competes in a number of sports including baseball, cross country, track and field, beach volleyball, and women’s and men’s basketball. The reflection period from spring to autumn was short. The UNO Student Government Association received approval from the University of Louisiana’s Systems Board of Supervisors to take the matter to a level pupils voting in the spring. Those responsible for athletics held 10 information events with students, the faculty senate, the staff council and other campus groups. It wasn’t enough.

The students rejected the proposal – by 70%. Less than 30% of eligible students voted, but that’s more than in several years. Athletics and Recreation Vice President Tim Duncan was disappointed but not surprised. During the sessions he told me: “There were a lot of people who were price conscious.” Duncan also added: “There were a lot of students who said they chose this university because there is no football there.”

If the idea had been approved, the fee would have netted the athletics $3.6 million. Athletics would have worked to generate $2.4 million more from ticket sales, concessions, donations and sponsorships.

I’m sorry the students didn’t see the benefits. It is a good idea.

UNO has 100 acres of undeveloped land, an untapped resource that could easily include a soccer stadium and more. Nobody wants to overbuild. But smart planning could lead to innovative design and creative applications. Look at the stadium illustration.

Properly funded and administered, these programs could offer students from the New Orleans and Louisiana area another college education opportunity. Only young men could play soccer, but young men and young women are part of the cast of a soccer program. Men and women are in marching bands. Young women who play golf and soccer may love UNO, but they choose other schools to continue playing.

These additions could increase student enrollment as non-participating students consider what their non-teaching time might look like.

College football programs are often the sports that generate the most revenue and often offset the costs of other athletics programs. They attract students who want an exciting gridiron team to cheer for, enjoy some fall afternoons and nights with friends and fellow fans, watch cheering squads, and listen to bands playing university-specific songs and popular tunes. Tuition fees almost always cover the cost of their tickets, so they don’t have an out-of-pocket expense.

Students who play sports in high school and continue to play in college are less likely to drop out of college and are more likely to graduate from college with higher GPAs.

New Orleans is a music city. UNO has a popular jazz ensemble program, and public performances at the Sandbar are a campus and community favorite. Marching bands offer something different.

The university isn’t considering trying the fee again anytime soon, although Duncan said, “I don’t think it’s over.” Still, the UN is “probably” waiting for another tuition spot, he said.

Duncan, UN President John Nicklow and other UN officials may consider a more sophisticated route, namely self-funding with no tuition fees. Alumni, fans and non-student supporters of UNO Privateer can be helpful in such an effort. The fee path is a pupils commitment role. When I’ve been to different universities, I’ve seen successful tuition votes and I’ve seen them fail. Students don’t like to feel pressured; it has to be her decision.

That’s a good idea. Some good ideas need fine-tuning. Some good ideas deserve a second look. That’s worth thinking about again.

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