As for Staggering Athletic Programs, Vaughn Knows the Feeling

Joseph Vaughn was playing at Cal State Fullerton when the Titan football program was blue-penciled after the 1992 season.

Vaughn, a senior defensive back at Cal State Northridge who could be a peer counselor on funding issues, knows storm clouds when he sees them and would like to share the feeling of dread with his fellow students.

Unless they pass a measure on the Oct. 18-19 ballot that would increase student fees from $4 to $49 a semester to aid the athletic department, Northridge might lose its football team.

"It seems like it's following me," Vaughn said. "It's too much. We've got school, our families, we have our own problems other than football.

"That's a load to carry. To not know your future as far as next year is tough and unfair."

Money matters like this always deteriorate into commas, decimals and dollar signs. This time, the athletic department would like to include an exclamation point.

Maybe it's time for a 49er.

Semester registration fees for state residents enrolled full-time this fall is $958, which means an increase of $49 amounts to a 5% hike. It's a simple decision, really. If students want a legitimate athletic program, they must fork over the money themselves.

An election-day defeat means the school's Division I status might disappear without a trace, like Sargent Shriver and Admiral Stockdale. Both were second-banana hopefuls. The Matadors will be second bananas with an election slip-up, no doubt about it.

Without the additional funding, Northridge would be forced to eliminate a handful of programs and revert to Division II status, officials maintain. The athletic program has competed at the Division I level, successfully in most instances, for five years.

Football is on the shakiest ground. Tentatively, it has been the first program targeted for extinction if the ballot measure is given a thumbs-down.

It's unrealistic to expect the Matadors to compete with other Southland Division I teams at their funding level of $3.6 million. To their credit, many Northridge teams do well on such a restrictive budget.

The $2.25 million generated annually by the referendum would allow Matador teams--except football--to to allocate the NCAA maximum in scholarships.

"It would put us closer to a level playing field with the schools we're expected to compete with," Athletic Director Bob Hiegert said.

Level field, eh? Beats the gopher holes, dead spots, poor lighting and dismal accommodations at many Northridge athletics venues. That would be rectified with a yea vote, too.

Funds from outside sources--benefactors, corporate donors, alumni and the like--would be used to upgrade the school's third-rate facilities.

Previously, money solicited from private donors was used to underwrite day-to-day budgetary expenses. Several area high schools have superior stadiums, another reason why the stands at Matador events are often emptier than the departmental coffers.

When it comes to cash, the athletic department is a veritable Fort Knocks. Blows come from every quarter these days, including Mother Nature.

The University Corporation, which oversees much of the school's discretionary finances, is strapped because of earthquake-related construction costs. The $430,000 that athletics received from the Corporation in 1992-93 will plummet to zero by next year. The department could lose as much as $700,000 from the 1995-96 budget, according to projections.

Athletics receive $4 per semester from each student, a fee that was instituted in 1985 and has remained unchanged since. The recession and quake have trimmed student enrollment to 24,000, down from 31,000 in the late 1980s, which also has trimmed the departmental bankroll.

Another unforeseen, unpredictable shot to the ribs: Last week, the Matador Reporter, a campus newspaper, broke a story detailing the department's new sponsorship contract with Pepsi-Cola. According to terms of the deal, Pepsi will provide $500,000 over the next 10 years. A plum for a shoestring program.

Trouble was, a student reporter leaned too heavily on the office calculator. The headline in the newspaper the following day said the department would receive $5 million from Pepsi. . . . On the same page came news that athletics was seeking an additional $49 each semester through the referendum.

OK, so at least one Northridge student has trouble with multiplication, but the entire student body can spell O-V-E-R-K-I-L-L . Not a positive public-relations moment for those backing the new measure.

Joe and Joan College want to know what the payoff is for them, of course. To begin with, entry to athletic events will be free. If the proposition fails, students will fork over admission charges like everybody else.

Care to see the likes of USC, UCLA, Stanford and Pepperdine? Place a check mark in the "affirmative" box. Otherwise, expect a steady diet of box scores from Cal State snoozers Dominguez Hills, Stanislaus, San Bernardino and Bakersfield.

Consider the meager sacrifice:

For the average frat guy, $49 in beer money lasts a month of Saturday nights, tops. Here's what $49 buys today at the Northridge Fashion Center:

A bag of cement.

A ball peen hammer.

A bucket of bolts.

Not much else, because there is no Northridge mall. It was closed by the earthquake, though reconstruction has been under way for months.

The Northridge athletic department needs to retool, too.

Forty-nine bucks.

Chances are 50-50.

May student vision be 20-20.

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