By: Connor Blake, USM ‘21
Most students at USM are boosters of university athletics, but most of those same students probably don’t realize what it’s costing them individually to pay for the $3 million athletics program. Most certainly they are not aware of how the university has built in funds for the athletic program in a series of hidden fees.
At a small university like USM, having a culture of athletics is a vital piece in building community throughout the school. While the money may be a lot, both the students and the Athletics Department agree on this. Sophomore and wrestler Raúl Gierbolini said, “coming from Puerto Rico, I would not be at USM if it were not for wrestling.”
While most people at USM agrees with this sentiment, the disagreement comes from the way athletics is funded. I spoke with four athletes, Emily Baker, a Jenna Graves, Emily Saunders, and Raúl Gierbolin. All of them agreed that making money is not this issue. “The issue is with how the money is obtained, I don’t believe that over 8,000 students should have to pay for what only 450 students can access,” Saunders said.
The Athletics Department at USM is run by Athletic Director Albert Bean, a former USM graduate who has been the director for 26 years. Bean said “The budget of the athletics department has a total of $3,025,000”. This includes paying for salaries, benefits, and overall operation of the department which includes equipment, uniforms, travel expenses and more. To bring in this much money “20-30 percent comes from the University of Maine System which comes in from the state. The other 60-70 percent comes from our students with the unified fee,” Bean said.
The unified fee, as described on the USM Student Financial Services website is a fee that, “covers fixed costs of providing educational services not already supported by tuition.” This fee is charged to every USM student regardless of if they are an in-state or out-of-state student, or an undergraduate or graduate student. Every student gets charged $30 per credit hour.
What makes this fee different than most, is that it most students don’t know where the money is going. After talking with student athletes, Baker, Graves, Gierbolini and Saunders, as well as non-student athlete Mariah Harmon, none were aware of the unified fee that they are paying to fund the USM Athletics Department.
The unified fee is not the only thing upsetting about the funding for this department. Athletes are also upset when it comes to athletic training services. Starting last year, USM started charging their athletes for using some services. “I received two bills at my house in Texas, in the amount of $50 for icing and $40 for electrical nerve stimulation,” Graves said.
These additional charges have had an effect on the playing field for some teams as well. More and more athletes are restricting themselves on the playing field out of fear of injuries that would result in a trip to the athletic health care services to aid the healing process. Captain of the girls’ soccer team, Emily Baker said, “I know that I would play harder in games and so would my teammates if I knew that there wasn’t going to be a charge sent to my house from using the athletic trainer’s services.”
In response to the allegations that some students have been charged for things such as an icing or electrical nerve stimulation, Bean said, “We cannot be expected to provide free health care services to these students, so we had to start charging for things such as doctors visits or anything ordered by the doctor.”
In addition to the money provided by the state and the students, the department also “must generate approximately $600,000 annually, to contribute to the total budget, that is done through ice arena rentals, field and facility rentals, fitness center memberships, sponsorships, and other special event activities,” Bean said. Anything else that is needed for the athletes is provided by external fundraising done by the athletes.
At the end of the day, the Athletics Department believes that they spend less than what they bring in for money. The Athletics Department also makes money for the school in different ways. “We make money for the university in ways that cannot be counted, with about 150 out of the 450 athletes we have are coming from out-of-state places which means an increase in money for the school,” Bean said.
Athletics are “just as important and educational to some students as music, theatre, and art is to others,” Bean said. While everyone may be unified when it comes to the role in which sports play at a university like USM, not everyone is in agreement when it comes to the money they have to spend because of the unified fee.