Brown: Let students in for free at Kinnick Stadium

Rick Brown
Less than 5,000 student season tickets have been sold for 2015 games at Kinnick Stadium.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – The state-of-the-art Hansen Football Performance Center still has that new-car smell, but why stop there?

The football footprint at the University of Iowa got a little bigger last week when the Board of Regents approved plans for $135 million to $150 million in upgrades. Included in the plans are improvements to the north end zone at Kinnick Stadium and a new residence hall nearby that will house students and student-athletes.

I understand the revenue football produces for a university. I know that facility upgrades are vital to keeping up with your rivals. I have no issues there.

But it seems to me that the normal student is getting lost in the shuffle. On the same day that the regents approved the latest athletic enhancements, they discussed a proposed mid-year 3 percent tuition and fees increase. It would be the first tuition increase in 21/2 years at the three state universities.

"A 100 bucks for a semester, I mean, that's nothing, as far as I'm concerned," said Dr. Subhash Sahai, one of the regents.

Speaking as a parent of one recent graduate and one soon-to-be postgraduate student at a state university, let me tell you this: it's not nothing. I say that realizing that in-state tuition is a bargain at our three state universities.

I appreciate that every day as I watch a young person getting started in the professional world trying to make ends meet while Uncle Sam makes a profit off the incurred student loan debt.

Tuition increase or not, I've got just the way to make regular students at the University of Iowa feel like someone cares about them, too. The athletic department should give them free admission to football games.

At last check, approximately 4,500 student season football tickets have been sold for 2015. That number comes from Rick Klatt, Iowa's associate athletic director for external affairs. Student-ticket sales exceeded 10,000 in seven of eight seasons between 2005 and 2012, but have taken a nosedive since. They dropped to 7,382 in 2013 and 6,440 last season.

This spring, the athletic department reduced the cost of a season ticket to $125 for incumbent students if they purchased them before May 15. New students had until July 31 to take advantage of the bargain. After the deadlines, the cost went up to $175.

Let's be optimistic and say that 6,000 student tickets are sold. As of June 29, new students had purchased 2,444 season tickets. There's $305,500. Let's say the rest were purchased at $175. That means a total of $927,800 in revenue from student-ticket sales.

Iowa's self-sustaining athletic department projects $93.56 million in revenue for fiscal year 2016. So $927,800? That's nothing.

Letting students in for free would create plenty of goodwill. And let's face it, there should be a lot of elbow room in Kinnick Stadium this season. It might make the regular student feel vested in the team and could chip away at the growing apathy that continues to shrink the student section.

Those who have already bought student tickets could get a refund in the mail. That would cover the tuition increase if the regents approve it next month.

The proposal approved by the regents includes $85 million for the new residence hall and an estimated $35 million to $45 million for Kinnick upgrades.

"I think it's important to continue to enhance Kinnick Stadium," Board of Regents president Bruce Rastetter said. "It's a special place."

And letting students experience it, at no cost to them, would make them feel like 100 bucks.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.