The backlash from some of the 21,000 faculty (3,000) and staff (18,000) has been considerable - to the point where athletic director Steve Patterson may have to completely revise his initial plan. More on that in a second.
For years, the Longhorn All Sports Package (LASP) allowed faculty and staff to buy two football season tickets for less than face value at a savings of more than 2-for-1.
Faculty and staff were given access to football tickets at the Tier 2 and Tier 3 level (upper decks on east and west sides of Royal-Memorial Stadium as well as the north end zone). And the LASP program also gave faculty and staff free access to other sporting events, such as basketball and baseball on a draw basis when other LASP tickets went unclaimed.
So a faculty member with two Tier 2 football season tickets this season, paid a total of $313 for both. A single Tier 2 season ticket offered to the public for 2014 was $430.
Starting next year, when UT Athletics said the LASP program goes away, faculty and staff were told by UT Athletics they'd be given a 20 percent discount on all tickets to UT sporting events.
So the faculty member who paid $313 for two football season tickets this year would pay $688 for those two season tickets in 2015-16 ( $860 for 2 season tickets at the $430 regular price – minus a 20 % discount = $688).
They would also have to pay to go to basketball and baseball games (with a 20 % discount) after years of getting in free with unclaimed tickets.
Texas women's athletic director Chris Plonsky said Saturday the change was mandated for a couple reasons, including a revelation by Steve Patterson that any employee benefit of more than 20 percent requires that those employees pay taxes on the difference. (And the LASP program was obviously providing faculty and staff with much more than a 20 percent discount).
Plonsky also said the Department of Education recently stated that students needed to be separated from faculty and staff when it came to benefits such as Texas' LASP program.
"The LASP program was really designed for students," Plonsky said. "So we had to separate the faculty and staff from the student LASP program and come up with new programs for both."
The students got The Big Ticket program, which allows them to pay $195 and receive a reserved seat to football games as well as a general admission pass to all other UT sporting events, Plonsky said.
The faculty and staff were notified in mid-July that their new plan would simply be a 20 percent discount on the face value of UT tickets.
But the backlash on that proposal reached the Texas administration, which told athletics to come up with a new discount on tickets to UT sporting events for faculty and staff.
"We just don't know what that is yet because we haven't come up with our pricing for football tickets for 2015," Plonsky said.
Plonsky admitted there were no meetings between athletics, faculty and staff in advance of the email going out in mid-July. But she said there have been meetings between athletics, faculty and staff since the email went out.
Several faculty members told me if the initial 20 percent discount remained, they simply wouldn’t buy football season tickets any longer, many out of principle. Others told me they would cancel their season tickets because of the increased expense and recently declining value.
Here is part of an email I received from a disgruntled UT faculty member:
“... I can't make it to all the (football) games, so it is more difficult for me to justify the increase in cost for tickets I may or may not use.
“When we had new employees come in, this was one of the main perks that got them excited.
“I can't speak for all the faculty as some can afford them more than others can, but out of principle, they may object, especially with the continued polices changes at UT that leave the faculty squabbling more nowadays.”
It would seem the athletic department would always want to do all it could to keep the faculty and staff at UT happy for a lot of obvious reasons.
But here is the email that went out from “UT Athletics” to faculty over the summer obtained by HornsDigest.com:
Dear LASP Holder,
As a UT Faculty/Staff member who has purchased the Longhorn All-Sports Package (LASP) and football season tickets valid for the 2014-15 academic year, we wanted to send a quick update on the status of this program.
The LASP was originally designed many years ago as a ticket package for students and staff. In order to take advantage of ticketing technology and simplify ticket offerings for students and staff, we are changing our ticket offerings. Your LASP will continue to be valid for your football season tickets and the draw for other home events for the 2014-15 season, but this will be the final year we will offer the LASP.
We wanted to make you aware of the change in offerings for next season so you could plan accordingly. For the 2015-16 season, all UT Faculty/Staff will be able to purchase discounted season tickets by taking advantage of a 20% discount on all season ticket orders.
You may receive an “Informational” email through the University in the coming days offering the 20% discount opportunity for faculty and staff for this season. Before you received that message we wanted to make you aware that there will be no changes that affect your LASP season tickets for the 2014-15 season. However, we wanted to provide this information in advance so you will know how your tickets will be offered in the future.
Hook ‘em Horns.
For Patterson not to do a better job of communicating with faculty and staff before the mid-July email went out and blindside them with the new, 20 percent discount without any explanation is Public Relations 101. There was no mention of any tax guidelines or Department of Education stipulations in the email, just a desire "to take advantage of ticketing technology and simplify ticket offerings."
Patterson always talks about how college athletics has done a poor job of telling its story when talking about all the changes coming as a result of lawsuits filed on behalf of student-athletes, such as the Ed O'Bannon case that went to trial this year.
But Patterson clearly did a poor job of telling faculty and staff why changes were coming to their athletics discount.
"We were blindsided," one faculty member told HornsDigest.com.
The faculty and staff hear about how Texas is the top revenue producing athletic department in the country, bringing in $165.7 million in 2013, according to USA Today, as a tax-exempt entity.
Patterson wants to grow that to $250 million in the next five years. So faculty members said to forgive them if they take offense to feeling like they were about to be used as a means to Patterson’s revenue-driving end.