This is an excerpt from Campus Recreational Sports by NIRSA.
The location of an institution of higher education affects the relationship between the community and the institution, which is known as the “town-and-gown” relationship. In many cases, the campus recreational sports department serves as a bridge between the institution and community. Residential colleges in small towns often develop synergistic relationships that are enhanced by the institution’s recreational offerings. This is especially true in communities that possess only a limited tax base with which to support community centers and recreation programs, thus limiting their ability to provide the swimming pools, gymnasiums, fitness centers, ice rinks, and tennis facilities that are normally prevalent in large cities with robust suburban areas. Conversely, institutions housed in urban areas may find themselves in competition with private clubs, YMCAs, and community centers. These situations involve less of a need to create a bridge between town and gown but still may offer an opportunity to provide unique recreational experiences. In either case, community use of campus recreational sports facilities and programs can provide an extra source of revenue.
In offering opportunities to the community, the campus recreational sports professional must become well versed in the issues of unfair business practices and unrelated business income tax (UBIT). Unfair business practice involves the issue of competing interests between private businesses and nonprofit ventures. Because most colleges and universities operate as nonprofit or not-for-profit entities, they enjoy property tax and income tax advantages not afforded to private for-profit entities. This means that when the campus recreational sports program competes with a private corporation, it must ensure that it does not take unfair advantage of its tax status by undercutting the for-profit entity. UBIT, on the other hand, involves the fees (for services or goods) generated as a result of the department’s interactions with the community or unaffiliated customers. The growth and expansion of fee-for-service activities and retail operations within the modern campus recreational sports program creates the potential for generating UBIT. For example, some campus recreation programs provide services such as swimming lessons or facility memberships to the community which are considered unrelated to the primary academic mission of the institution. Unrelated funds aresegregated from funds generated by institutionally related activities, such as faculty and staff memberships, and add to the institution’s income tax liabilities.
Despite these financial complexities, many campus recreational sports programs interact with the community by providing services, such as individual memberships to fitness and recreational facilities, group and team facility rentals, participation in intramural and club sport teams, attendance at special events, and instructional classes provided for youth and adults. In some cases, campus recreational sports programs work with local schools to provide specialized recreation services for area youth, including youth sport leagues and learn-to programs.
The underlying principle when inviting the community into the campus recreational sports program is that students must remain at the center of the endeavor. The campus recreational sports professional must take care to ensure that students are not negatively affected by community involvement in what are essentially student recreation facilities. Some ways to do this are to monitor facility usage patterns by category, examine staff time, and observe community and student interactions.
In some cases, the campus recreational sports program is also a customer of services from the community—for example, local chapters of the American Red Cross, American Heart Association, or other organizations that provide training materials and certifications for staff members. The campus recreational sports professional may also work with local government officials and agencies, including health inspectors and the fire marshal, to help ensure that the institution’s facilities and programs comply with state and local codes. It is also essential for the program to establish a relationship with the local emergency medical services and critical incident response personnel prior to an event to maximize the department’s ability to respond effectively in a crisis.
Campus recreational sports professionals must also create and maintain good relationships with service providers and product vendors, such as vending suppliers, equipment maintenance and laundry companies, local or regional sporting goods vendors, and noninstitutional technology service providers.