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UNT students to vote for second time on hike in athletic fee

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

North Texas students will vote for a second time on an increase in the school's athletic fee that would provide a significant financial boost for the school's sports programs beginning Tuesday.

Voting will run through Thursday.

UNT's current athletic fee is $10 per semester credit hour. The school's athletic department also receives a portion of a student services fee.

The proposal would increase UNT's athletic fee to $16.25 per semester credit hour but would reduce the student services fee. The result would be a net increase for students of $4.25 per credit hour that would provide the athletic department an additional $3.5 million per year.

UNT students originally voted on the proposal in December. The results of the vote were nullified by the UNT Student Government Association after fliers using its logo were distributed to oppose the fee.

UNT's student government "determined that a non-SGA party's unauthorized use of the SGA logo could have misled students and had an impact on their vote."

UNT officials have remained confident throughout the process the fee eventually will be approved. They believe the fee increase is critical to the growth of the school's athletics program.

"I still believe that the students will support our programs," UNT athletic director Wren Baker said in January.

Baker and other UNT officials have pointed to the fact that, even with the proposed increase, the school's athletic fee would be 30 percent lower than the average in Conference USA and 19 percent below the fees charged by Texas State and Texas-San Antonio after the increase, according to a UNT study. UNT and UTSA are members of C-USA. Texas State is another peer institution in the state.

UNT officials rolled out a social media campaign before the original vote and are appealing to students to vote in favor of increasing the fee again this week. The UNT athletic department is pointing to the success it has enjoyed since Baker arrived in summer 2016 despite what it sees as an athletic fee that leaves its programs at a financial disadvantage. 

UNT's football team has played in bowl games in each of the past two seasons, including the New Orleans Bowl in December, when the Mean Green lost to Troy. The school's soccer team played in the NCAA tournament last fall, losing to Texas in the opening round.

The school's three major fall programs — football, soccer and volleyball — combined to finish 52-13-4 and had the highest combined winning percentage in program history at 78 percent this fall.

The school also announced in the past few weeks it set a record for single-year donations at $8.9 million, which was 90 percent higher than the previous mark.

"It's about making the overall experience better for everyone," UNT football coach Seth Littrell is quoted as saying in the school's campaign for the fee. "Successful teams build school pride and students are essential to our success. Help us on the journey to greatness, your support is what drives our passion."

UNT's vote will come just days after UTSA's students overwhelmingly voted against a hike in its student athletics fee. UTSA's proposal would have increased its student athletics fee that sits at $20 per semester credit hour with a cap of 12 hours by $1 per credit hour this academic year and next year while also removing the 12-hour cap.

UTSA's measure was voted down by nearly 77 percent of students.

UNT's student athletic fee originally was put in place to help the construction of Apogee Stadium, which opened in 2011. 

UNT has played in three bowl games since the venue opened, including when it knocked off UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl following the 2013 season. 

UNT officials are asking students to give the school's athletic department more to work with by voting for the fee hike. The additional funds would be used to improve facilities, travel and recruiting budgets in addition to increasing marketing and promotions aimed at students, school officials said.

"We are going to find a way to advance the program regardless of the outcome referendum," Baker said. "As we increase resources, we have shown that can compete for conference titles and be relevant nationally."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.