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JSU Says It Can Afford To Expand Paul Snow Stadium Without Dipping Into Tuition
From the muddied ground of a construction site, bricks are rising outside Jacksonville State University’s newest dorm rooms and covering the towering façade outside the adjoining Paul Snow Stadium. Inside, two unfinished wings of seating flank the existing stands and rows of fresh concrete distinguish the addition on the south side of the facility. Rising above them are three scaffold-wrapped levels of new construction that run the length of the football field.
When the $65 million project is completed at the start of the fall semester, it will house 380 students and will have the capacity to hold 24,000 fans.
In addition to new stadium seating and dorms, the project also includes luxury suites, club seating, an expansive club room, press boxes and control rooms for the coaching staff.
The university is paying for the project with money from a bond issue, essentially a giant loan that will have to be paid back in two payments of $1 million each per year over the next three decades. Officials plan to draw money for the payments from dorm rentals, ticket sales, luxury box leases, private contributions and money paid to JSU to play bigger-name universities on the road.
If all goes as planned, university officials say the revenue from the dorms and the football program will prevent them from tapping into the university’s other funding sources, which include money from the state and federal governments and — biggest of all — tuition. However, if it doesn’t earn enough revenue from football and the dorms in any one year, JSU would have to look elsewhere for money to make its bond payments.
“The current plan provides sufficient funds to cover the bi-annual payments. Any excess funds will be set aside to cover future debt service payments,” said Clint Carlson, JSU’s vice president of business affairs. “If these sources will not cover the bi-annual payments, then other revenues of the institution will be used to cover the institution’s debt service obligation.”
University officials say they do not want to do that, and it seems clear that the revenue will be there at least in the first year to make the payments. However, some students continue to believe their tuition dollars will be diverted to the football program, despite assurances to the contrary. And officials face a tall task in convincing skeptics of the worth of the project, given the rarity with which Paul Snow Stadium’s previous 15,000 seats were filled.
Running the numbers
Each student renting one of the beds in the new dorms will pay between $2,400 and $2,600 per semester depending on the amenities. As of now, 90 percent of the beds in the new dorms have been taken and the remaining beds could be assigned this summer, according to officials with the university’s housing office.
Simple math, not including the recurring cost of utilities in the structure, shows that the dorm rental project alone would bring in at least $1.8 million with all its beds filled, accounting for about 90 percent of the annual payments.
But JSU President Bill Meehan said it would take funding from all revenue sources generated from the project to pay for it. That means the school will be depending on the money generated from leasing the 33 luxury boxes, which go for between $16,000 and $20,000, the club-level seats, which sell for $500, and season tickets, which go for about $90 each.
But just how many of those tickets will be sold remains unknown. Earlier this month Oval Jaynes, JSU’s athletic director, said about 200, or 20 percent, of the 1,026 club-level seats have been sold and that 12 of the 33 luxury boxes had been leased.
Tack onto that a $500,000 guarantee JSU has secured to play the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., and it appears the school has enough money to make its payments.
Jaynes declined to say how many season tickets have sold so far, but added that most people wait until mid-summer to buy them. He also said filling the stadium is a concern. Over their 15-year Division I history, the Gamecocks have drawn an average of 10,112 fans per game. Only rarely have they needed every one of the 15,000 seats the stadium had until the expansion project began (see chart). Whether JSU will ever need the extra 9,000 seats workers are now putting the finishing touches on is an unanswered question.
“Is it a challenge? Yes it is,” Jaynes said. “Is it an ambitious project? Yes it is. Is it something that’s going to be good for JSU? I sure hope so.”
Building for growth
University officials say the project is about more than filling the stands. It is, they say, about positioning the football program to move up to the next level to improve not just athletics, but the university as a whole.
JSU, which currently plays in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision of Division I, would like to move up to the marquee Football Bowl Subdivision. That won’t even be an option until August 2011 when a moratorium on Division I moves enacted by the NCAA is lifted.
“We want to position ourselves to advance,” Jaynes said. “The better facilities you have for your program, the better chance you have to move to the next level.”
He said finding in-state rivals at JSU’s current level is becoming increasingly difficult and that he would like to see JSU move up to compete with nearby FBS programs like the one at Troy University, an old rival, to generate more interest in the program. He added that it would be unrealistic to expect JSU to transform its football program into one that competes against state powerhouses Alabama and Auburn.
“JSU will never be in the SEC, never in the ACC. I don’t think we fit the profile,” Jaynes said, referring to two of FBS’ elite conferences. “I’d like to be in a conference with Troy, South Alabama and UAB. Now will that happen? … I don’t know.”
Still, JSU officials face an uphill battle in convincing their student body that the project is a good idea. Even with no athletic fees and free admission to every home game, many JSU students dislike the expansion project.
Some believe the dorms, while a nice amenity, are too expensive and say the additional seats are a waste of the university’s resources. Students also fear that, regardless of the money the university is raising through dorm rentals and luxury seating sales, one way or another, they will end up paying for the project.
“With us not having big ticket sales and the students getting to go to the game for free, how are they going to pay for it,” asked Destiny White, a freshman majoring in early childhood education. “I’m wondering where that money is going to come from and I know it’s going to come from me, in some way.”
But some students object to the project for other reasons.
“I’m very personally opposed to the stadium because we cannot fill the stadium,” said Sachio Arai, a student from Japan majoring in political science. “At the very time of economic crisis, I don’t think it’s acceptable to invest in something useless.”
But the ideas these students expressed are exactly the ones university officials would like to change to sell more tickets and pay for the project. Despite winning national championships in football, baseball and basketball when JSU competed in Division II, support for the athletic programs is not what officials want it to be.
“If there is one thing I could pump into our JSU alumni and friends it’s a passion for JSU athletics,” Jaynes said. “We’ve had good programs here.”
By Laura Johnson, Anniston Star