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Davis, California

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Sheep with cash fleece: We are paying more than $550 a year to fund a program many of us do not benefit from

UC Davis charges the student body $19 million annually to fund the athletics program that only benefits 700 students

By CALVIN WONG — cvswong@ucdavis.edu

We, the student body, must have a revote on the student fees the UC Davis administration charges to fund the Intercollegiate Athletics program, namely through the Student Activities and Services Initiative (SASI) and the Campus Expansion Initiative (CEI)

Through the SASI and CEI, the UC Davis athletics department will receive $570 per undergraduate student in 2021-2022. These two fees provide athletics with over $19 million in funding. Yet, when looking specifically at what expenses this $19 million covers, it is clear that this money only benefits the 700 student-athletes on our campus, which is 2% of the undergraduate population.

The $11.7 million in SASI fees “support our 25 varsity athletic teams, including sport operating expenses such as team travel, equipment, home game expenses, medical related expenses, and coach salaries,” according to athletics’ 2020-2021 use of SASI report. The $7.5 million in CEI fees pay for athletic scholarships, also known as “Grant‐in‐Aid for Student Athletes,” according to athletics’ 2020-2021 use of CEI report

Ninety eight percent of the student body derive no tangible benefit from these fees. Non-student athletes will never be able to use varsity athletic sports equipment or benefit from team travel expenses. We will also never be recipients of athletic scholarships. 

The UC Davis administration’s rationalization for charging us this needless amount of money is that a successful athletics program puts UC Davis’ name “out there” and therefore makes our resumes stand out. But even if we were to accept this superficial argument, are the administrators saying UC Davis academics are not reputable enough to stand on their own? 

In contrast, UC Berkeley’s athletics program only received $444,374 in student fees in 2019-2020. With an undergraduate population of 29,770 at the time, that meant UCB only collected $14.93 per undergraduate for its athletics program. Evidently, UCB’s “prestige” does not rest on its undergraduate population bankrolling its athletics program.

Even if the student body revotes on the SASI and CEI and ends up nullifying the funds that athletics receives from them, UC Davis leadership already expressed their desire to ensure that the athletics program is thoroughly funded. On Nov. 21, 2018, Chancellor Gary May stated to the Davis Enterprise, “If I think athletics is a priority for the university — and it is — then I have to be involved in making sure it is properly resourced.” 

Furthermore, university leadership has plenty of money to pay for athletics. In 2021-2022, the government of California appropriated $456 million in unrestricted funds to UC Davis, an increase of $64 million from the previous year. If the university were to use its unrestricted funds to cover the $19 million that athletics receives from the undergraduate student body, it would still have 95.83% of its unrestricted state funds remaining to spend on whatever it wants.

Despite having the desire and the money to fund athletics, the university places the burden of funding the athletics program on us because we are chained to student fee agreements made decades before we were here. In 1994, only 13.7% of the undergraduate student body voted to approve the SASI. In 2002, only 20.4% of undergraduate students voted to approve the CEI. Holding referendums to renew or shatter the chains that bind us to the SASI and CEI should be pursued on the mere matter of temporality and principle. And the fact that they both barely passed should be further incentive to hold a revote.

If we do not hold a referendum on these two student fees this year, I believe the university administration will only make the process harder moving forward. After I expressed support for the student body having a revote on the athletics portion of the SASI and CEI, university administrators unilaterally removed me from my position as co-chair of the Council on Student Affairs and Fees, alleging that my support created a “conflict of interest” with my official duties. However, based on all COSAF and UC policies provided to me, no such conflict of interest exists. I believe that the administration’s apparent retaliation against me indicates that if we do not pursue revotes now, they will only make it more difficult to pursue the issue in the future.

Each year, the UC system and UC Davis administration take more and more from us through tuition and student fee increases while offering less and less. UC tuition is going up, and student fees at UC Davis have consistently increased each year. This places an even bigger burden on more than 9,200 UC Davis undergraduates who average $5,145 in federal student loans per year. Meanwhile, the UC Davis administration unilaterally and abruptly cut the physical education program effective winter quarter 2021, which has led to “loss of low-unit courses that help students meet financial aid requirements.”

This pattern of unequal exchange underpins the notion that the university sees us as nothing more than sheep with coats of money to fleece. Rather than stand by and pay for a program that the administration already has the desire and money to fund, every undergraduate should consider whether they want to continue giving athletics $19 million annually in student fee revenue. 

For more information and to learn how you can get involved with holding a revote on the Athletics portion of SASI and CEI, check out this slideshow

Written by: Calvin Wong — cvswong@ucdavis.edu

Calvin Wong is a 4th-year undergraduate history and political science major and voting member of the Council on Student Affairs and Fees (COSAF). Wong also previously worked as a copy reader for The California Aggie.

This story was updated on Nov. 1.


  1. Yeah, and? Wait until you find out your tuition is paying for the math, science, and art departments too. They’re probably using some of your tuition to maintain parts of the campus that you yourself do not even personally use… the horror!

  2. I would have to disagree with your implication that UCB and UC Davis athletics are so comparable. Our student section is “the largest student-run university spirit section” (Wikipedia). We provide free entry for students to all sports, including the typically high revenue football and men’s basketball. UCB charges students for football and men’s basketball games. UCB also has a football stadium that seats more than 4 times as many people, and is able to charge more than 50% more per seat. The implication that we could just use money from the unrestricted funds instead of student fees, forgets the fact that the unrestricted money gets used elsewhere at the moment, otherwise we could just bankroll all of the student fees there instead. If we are looking at cutting student fees, it seems like going back to the Unitrans referendum would be a nice start given how they aren’t able to offer the bus service level that we are paying for.


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