Intramural sports have been a mainstay of campus recreation for many years. They promote teamwork and sportsmanship, build relationships and keep students active.
However, executing these programs can be expensive. “In intramurals, you have to go into the replacement and repair of things — footballs, jerseys and paint for the fields,” said Sean Ries, the director of campus recreation for the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB). “But the big thing is your official fees, scorekeeper fees and supervisor fees.”
This begs an important question: Should universities charge money for intramural sports? And if so, what is a reasonable cost?
“I do believe we should charge for intramurals,” said Ries. “I believe it’s an important part of the program because it offsets some of the losses intramurals bring, or at least helps offset the costs.”
As for how much universities can justify charging students for intramurals, it all depends on your campus recreation department’s budget, according to Ries.
“Every university is different with money they have to make or have to use to cover their programs,” said Ries. “Here at UAB, intramurals are fee-based programs, so we gather fees from students to help run our programs like almost every institution in the country. If your university feels those fees are enough to cover costs, then you don’t need to charge.”
Determining how much to charge requires keeping a close eye on the department’s budget for the upcoming year. Sometimes, space restrictions will make your programming and budgeting decisions for you. “We’ve had to cap our intramural soccer and football programs the last couple of years because we couldn’t take any more teams,” explained Ries. “It was a little bit easier for us to know we budgeted on the 40 teams we could allow. We were able to budget how much we needed to run the program, how much we thought we could make to run the program and how much we would lose — then the fees would have to help cover that.”
After establishing your budget projections, it’s time to contend with the human element of this equation: maintaining high enough participation levels to make the programming worth it. According to Ries, a forfeit fee can help preemptively solve many problems that arise from teams simply not showing up, namely covering the cost of paying referees and preparing the playing area for the sport.
It can also encourage students to stick to the commitments they’ve made. “It teaches our students accountability and responsibility,” said Ries. “The only reason you have intramurals on a college campus is to teach our students sportsmanship, organization, responsibility and playing together as a team.”
And that’s the purpose of intramurals: helping students develop qualities and relationships they can carry with them after college. “I would recommend charging a little bit to help offset some of those fees so you can continue to offer more and more intramurals and not feel like you’re being held back because your budget might not allow you to add more sports,” said Ries.