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Direct democracy and college athletics

California's budget problems are forcing colleges to cut funding across the board, sports included. Accompanying these cuts, according to this story in the LA Times, are referendums to support programs with student activity fees.

Priorities were put to a vote earlier this month at San Francisco State, and sports lost. Students narrowly rejected taxing themselves $33 a semester to pay for half of the $2.6-million athletic budget, putting the school's 16 remaining intercollegiate teams in jeopardy. Swimming has already been axed.

"It's saying that healthy growth through sports is not a priority and that college athletics is not important," said student body President Natalie Batista, a former softball star.

$66 bucks a year doesn't seem like much, but I have no idea what San Francisco State athletics does for its students. The story does not make clear whether the remainder of the budget is generated from athletic revenues or school subsidies. Students at San Diego State, where athletics are more prominent, vote next month on a $95 per semester fee. Having local hero Tony Gwinn (former Padre, and Aztec basketball and baseball star) for your baseball coach might help get out the "pro" vote, but $190 per year is real money.

In general, I give the edge to athletics over the English Department when it comes to students voting on funding programs. It is interesting to ponder what it means that university administrators are cutting sports programs and throwing back the option to a student vote, but I haven't sorted it out yet.