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SCSU students save the day

It was fourth down and long for the St. Cloud State University football team this past fall, and the outlook was pretty bleak.

The Huskies were on the chopping block to be eliminated as a sport at SCSU, a possibility which shook the foundation of college football.

But in a last-minute Hail Mary, the students of SCSU saved the program -- at least for the next three years -- by passing a referendum to raise their student athletic fees $1.74 per credit hour, with the maximum 12 credits.

As an alumni of SCSU, even the chance of losing its football program was pretty startling. Football is usually a staple on college campuses on those fall Saturday afternoons, and the possibility of actually cutting the program opened my eyes to the problem of college funding.

Brady Haggstrom, who is a graduate of Fergus Falls and currently a bartender at Zorbaz in Detroit Lakes (a position he has had in the summers the last several years) had some great insight of the downward spiral the SCSU athletics took over the course of the last few years.

Haggstrom has been an active member on the SCSU Student Government board, including the Executive Committee, which is based out of the Minnesota State Union Student Association.

The Executive Committee was directly involved in the possible elimination of the football program at SCSU.

Discussions and decisions were made by the Student Government throughout the late summer months and through the fall, when it finally climaxed with the student vote on the referendum to save the football program.

But it was a process with much discussion and controversy, as Haggstrom pointed out.

"During the summer of 2010, (SCSU Athletic Director) Morris Kurtz came and said the athletic department was going to be about $550,000 short for the upcoming fiscal year," Haggstrom recalled.

"The athletic department has its own budget and there were no reserves left for the 2011 fiscal year."

Basically, the athletic department was living on its reserves, which by 2011, were depleted.

There were a combination of reasons why SCSU was that short, including the constant cutting of funds by the State Legislature, and also the fact that the college didn't make any cuts the last three to four years in its athletic department.

"They basically were living off their reserves," Haggstrom added.

The potential cutting of the football program was not just felt on the SCSU campus, but around the nation, as budget cuts are becoming a reality for every college.

Some college football pundits were scared it could set off a domino effect, with the thinking of football being a sacred entity of a college now in limbo.

One of the only ways to save the Athletic Department from making huge cuts was going to be up to the 18,000 students who make up SCSU.

"There were many considerations for cuts, but one of the main factors was Title IX, which states you can't have more male sports than female sports," Haggstrom said. "You need female and male sports to be even, but you can have more female sports than male sports."

There were a few scenarios considered, including cutting five sports, which would affect 210 athletes.

Football has 94 student/athletes participating and it was the second-leading program in terms of loss of revenue, only behind women's hockey.

The SCSU football program spends $850,000 annually and had $67,000 in ticket revenue, as well as minimal gains in apparel merchandise.

Women's hockey could not be considered for cuts because it is needed to keep SCSU's biggest revenue maker -- men's hockey -- and their Division I status.

Another big concern was that SCSU would lose their Northern Sun Conference status, since it is a must to have football to compete in the conference.

The Executive Committee on which Haggstrom served doesn't make any standing decisions, but is a big influence in making recommendations to the Student Government.

"It was controversial, no doubt," said Haggstrom, who also served on the Student Senate in the past. "There have been some big academic cuts, and many thought that it was unfair to support raises in students' fees to save football. Some people would have sooner seen student fees raised to save professors' jobs.

"But there were also a lot of people wanting to save football, as well."

Haggstrom was not for raising student fees for football when the process started, but by the end, he thought it was a fair vote.

There were three options on the referendum, which was to be voted on by the students. The options were shaped by the Executive Committee and passed to go on the referendum by Student Government.

The turnout was spectacular, Haggstrom said, with over 4,000 students voting, with a normal voting turnout usually being around 1,800 -- on a good year.

The vote was held this past fall.

The options included: 1. No increase; 2. An increase of 74 cents per credit hour - max of 12 credits; 3. If "yes" on No. 2, would you support an additional $1 raise on student athletic fees (thus raising it to $1.74 per credit total)?

The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of option No. 3.

"It won hands down," Haggstrom said. "I thought they were all fair options to vote on and with over 4,000 voting, it was an important issue."

The increase of student athletic fees will raise $600,000 annually for three years, totaling $1.8 million.

There will also be $200,000 in cuts to administration of the Sports Department (a one-time cut), and there was the creation of an athletic foundation to help raise funds at the hope of $100,000 per year.

Many things have changed now in the SCSU Sports Department, and rightfully so.

"If the referendum would not have passed, football would have certainly been cut," Haggstrom added.

"I'm glad I was a part of the process, it was active democracy at its best."

Haggstrom, who is a Political Science major and will graduate this summer, is also looking to extend his education in either economics, accounting or business law.

Although it was a near miss of losing football at my alma mater, it was a perfect awakening to the SCSU alumni -- and football enthusiasts around the nation -- that nothing is sacred anymore.

With secondary education funding constantly being cut, nothing is untouchable.

I personally do thank the students of SCSU for stepping up to the plate for the Husky football program, in a decisive vote of unity.

It's not just a game anymore, it's a good lesson of life.

But I also challenge the State of Minnesota to back up all secondary education students and quit sinking colleges with their cuts to academics -- they are, after all, our future.

It's an investment well worth spending on, because they will pay off dividends in the future.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.