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D-I jump could mean doubled fees

A consultant's report recommends student fees at UND more than double in the next five years to support the school's proposed move to full NCAA Division I athletics in 2012.

A consultant's report recommends student fees at UND more than double in the next five years to support the school's proposed move to full NCAA Division I athletics in 2012.

Student members of a committee tasked with turning that report into a D-I action plan said Thursday they aren't surprised by the increased student fees, but hope students don't pay an unfair portion of the transition costs.

The report from Carr Sports Associates, a Gainesville, Fla.-based consulting firm, recommends student fees increase $35 per semester next year and then a total of $72 per semester in succeeding years. Those increases are only recommendations from the consulting firm and will likely change before the final action plan, said Bob Boyd, UND vice president for student and outreach services and a co-chairman of the school's D-I Commission.

"Students are taking a pretty big risk," said Nate Martindale, immediate past student body president. "I think we have to make sure it's comparable to what everyone else is doing."

Martindale said students won't receive the same benefits as other stakeholders in the D-I transition because many of them will graduate and leave town before the school becomes fully D-I. He said he's also concerned if projected funds don't come in from alumni donations or other sources, student fees will make up the deficit.

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Student Body President Jay Fisher, who succeeded Martindale on April 1, echoed his predecessor's concerns about additional increases to student fees, but took a more positive view of the consultant's initial recommendation.

"I was honestly expecting a lot larger number than actually appeared," he said. "Thirty-five dollars a semester is a small pill to swallow when you're talking about having a nationally competitive program."

Fisher said he'll take the recommendations to the Student Senate and their student constituents, and if there's strong opposition, he'll reconsider his support.

Fisher's largest concern, he said, is a section of the consultant's report dealing with UND's athletic facilities. That section describes a "near absence of institutional investment in athletics facilities for the past 25 years." The report calls the privately owned Ralph Engelstad Arena "extravagant," but labels large portions of the UND-owned Hyslop Sports Center "antiquated."

The report puts a $26 million price tag on necessary athletics facilities building and renovation projects in the near future, with an additional $26 million worth of projects described as "wants" rather than "needs."

Those building projects aren't included in the roughly $8.5 million increase in annual athletic costs resulting from the D-I transition detailed in the report. Boyd said building projects were left out of the report because many of them would be necessary even if UND remained Division II.

An Athletic Facilities Master Plan, due out in about six months, will give a fuller sense of necessary construction on UND's athletics buildings, said UND Athletic Director Tom Buning.

Increased costs

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Major costs that are included in the report fall into three main categories, Boyd said.

Between 2007 and 2012, the report recommends:

-- Investment in scholarships for student athletes increase from about $1.7 million to about $4.5 million.

-- Salary costs for new coaches and other staff increase from about $3.1 million to about $5.4 million.

-- Sports operations costs, including team travel and recruiting operations, increase from about $1.5 million to about $3.6 million.

The report recommends total athletic costs rise from about $9.5 million to about $18 million during the D-I transition.

About $4.6 million of that increase is attributed to inflation in the consultant's report. That works out to about 5 percent annual inflation, significantly higher than average.

Alice Brekke, UND budget director, said the high inflation rate is a reflection of the specific categories where costs are increasing. Scholarships, for example, are tied to tuition rates, which are projected to rise about 5 percent each year in the next biennium.

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Salaries at UND, the second main category, will rise between 4 percent and 5 percent annually depending on which side wins a university system budget battle between North Dakota's House and Senate.

A large part of the third main category, sports operations, is made up of travel expenses, Brekke said, which could increase drastically with rising fuel prices and disorder in the airline industry.

UND's men's and women's hockey programs are D-I sports, but all other sports are Division II. UND is one of only three state flagship universities that is not Division I in the majority of its sports, according to the consulting firm.

The D-I transition is a five-year process, starting with an exploratory year that begins this fall. In the first year, UND will compete on a Division II level, but must satisfy a number of minimum D-I standards. During the succeeding four years, the teams will compete primarily against D-I teams, but will not be eligible to compete for NCAA championships.

Marks reports on higher education. Reach him at (701) 780-1105, (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or jmarks@gfherald.com .

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