The UW-Madison Athletics Department can afford to carry its own weight and kick in a bigger share of the cost of proposed multi-million dollar improvements to campus recreational sports facilities, the university's Teaching Assistants’ Association is arguing.

“We’re disappointed in the level of support by UW Athletics,” Charity Schmidt, co-president of the TAA, said Friday.

The TAA is launching a campaign asking students and members of the general public to sign on to a letter to UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, Chancellor Rebecca Blank and the UW Board of Regents asking that athletics pay half the cost of updating rec sports facilities. The digital letter was sent to members of the teaching assistants union on Friday and will go out campus-wide on Monday, Schmidt said.

“Athletics has promised a measly $7 million to the possible Rec Sports Master Plan, estimated to cost a total of $223 million. That is only 3% of the Plan! Student seg fees would cover 57% of the funding!” an introduction to the letter reads, in part.

Students will vote March 3-5 on a “master plan” that would add new buildings at the Southeast Recreational Facility (SERF) and Natatorium and improve Near East and Near West playing fields. That plan would raise their segregated fees for recreational sports to a maximum of $144.78 per semester. Even if the referendum fails, students would see their “seg” fees rise to a minimum of $83.56 per semester to pay to restore facilities to their original condition, according to a blog post by the Department of Recreational Sports.

“Here’s the bottom line: both plans impose an unreasonable burden on students,” says the TAA.

Badger fans contribute big time to athletics, the TAA argues — $843 million of a total $970 million in annual economic impact — according to a 2011 consultant’s report.

But the kind of contribution that TAA is seeking is not realistic, athletics officials say.

“UW Athletics stated publicly last month that it has just completed four facilities projects that cost about $125 million,” associate athletic director Justin Doherty said in an email statement Friday. “The athletic department does not have unlimited resources and is not in a position to assist with the funding of the proposed Rec Sports Master Plan at the level being mentioned in the e-mail campaign.”

TAA led student opposition that in 2010 defeated a referendum to rebuild the Natatorium, which both students and recreational sports officials agree led to a more transparent referendum process this time around.

In its current campaign, the TAA points out that students stepped up to help the athletic department when it was in serious trouble 25 years ago. In 1989, when major major teams like football and basketball weren't competitive and the department was projecting a $1.5 million deficit on a $13 million budget, the Board of Regents approved a $10 per semester student fee to pull the department out of the red.

UW-Madison students “bailed out” athletics, the TAA says. “We are now fortunate to enjoy a successful and strong UW Athletics Department that is self-funded and resource-rich."

On Friday, the UW Athletic Board approved a 2014-2015 budget of just under $100 million.

Critics say that now that athletics is in the black, they’re passing the buck on student health and wellness, Schmidt said.

“The athletic department seems to think they’re somehow beyond the university,” she commented. “They are not always responsive to students, but we’ll see what kind of debate we generate across campus.”

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