Fee increase to be used for scholarships

Updated: January 21, 2005, 2:45 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Apologizing for "confusion and frustration," the University of Colorado regents delayed plans Thursday for a mandatory donation from football season ticket holders after complaints it would be used to pay off legal fees and a controversial stadium expansion.

The regents voted 5-3 to delay the surcharge until fall 2006, rather than next season. They also promised that the fee will be used only for scholarships.

"Absolutely marvelous. A stroke of genius. A wonderful move on the regents' part," said Louisville Mayor Chuck Sisk, a Colorado alumnus who has held season tickets since 1972.

He renewed his tickets earlier this year, but wrote "paid in protest" on the form.

"I have made donations actually in excess of what was being required," he said. "The seat tax had really alienated a number of people because of the fact that people were being forced to make the donations. A number of people were making donations anyway."

Regents Tom Lucero, who proposed delaying the ticket-renewal donation program, and Pete Steinhauer, who voted against it, did not immediately return calls.

The university said in October that mandatory donations of $50 to $300 were necessary to cover rising scholarship costs. CU said the donations were needed to help pay more than $5.9 million for scholarships in 2004-05 for more than 300 athletes in its 17 Division I programs.

Students and faculty members were exempt.

In 1979, the university began requiring donations up to $150 per seat for about 4,000 tickets in certain sections of Folsom Field, the football stadium. The program announced last year covered about 2,700 seats.

Some ticket holders said they believed the "seat tax" was put in place to subsidize $1.1 million in legal fees the department incurred to fight federal lawsuits stemming from the school's sex-and-booze recruiting scandal and to help pay for a $43.8 million seating expansion.

CU officials insisted legal fees were covered by insurance and that the new suites and club seating were covered by ticket sales for those seats.

As of Jan. 2, fans had canceled 104 tickets, officials said.

CU spokeswoman Pauline Hale said the university will notify ticket-holders of the change. Those who have already renewed will be asked if they would like the school to keep their donations, but requests for refunds will be honored, she said.

Without the surcharge revenue, the CU athletics department is expected to face a shortfall of approximately $3.2 million in its $34.5 million 2005-06 budget because football ticket sales dropped last year. Officials blamed the drop on lower ticket sales because of last year's recruiting scandal and the general economy.

"We recognize that this will create an even more challenging situation, but we expect to address it," Hale said.

In other action, the regents approved CU President Elizabeth Hoffman's recommendation to appoint Provost Phil DiStefano interim chancellor. He will replace Richard Byyny, who will become executive director of a new health policy center at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora on March 1.

As interim chancellor, DiStefano will maintain his new oversight of the athletic department, a move made last year as part of the reforms put in place in the wake of the scandal. Hoffman said the search for a permanent chancellor would begin by August.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press