Professional teams’ grab for tax dollars comes at expense of high-school sports

Aalekhya Tenali, Opinions Editor

Senior Lauren Dietl runs on the varsity cross-country team in the fall, starts on the varsity soccer team in the winter and sprints for the varsity track team in the spring. However, with the new ‘pay-to-play’ system that will be implemented at the start of the next school year, she would have to play $100 for participation in the first sport, plus an additional $50 for involvement in each additional sport. That’s $200 more than what Lauren had to pay this year.

With the ever-increasing sting of budget cuts, students have no doubt experienced many, often unpleasant changes. The final straw for some came with the removal of busing to school. Luckily, the fortunate majority has resolved to find a way to come to school and continue their numerous extracurricular activities. However, just as people thought the worst of the situation had passed, the Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars have cooked up a scheme to rub salt into these people’s wounds.

To break it down specifically, the Dolphins’ approximately $400 million plan asks for $200 million from taxpayers to build a canopy that will “shield game-goers from the sun and the rain,” to “improve” seating and get “renovate” scoreboards.

The trade-off?  Stephen Ross, the majority owner of the Dolphins, pledges to keep the team in Miami Gardens for another 25 years. Ross’ idea of a fair trade includes a sweeping promise to complete stadium renovations by 2015 with a wishy-washy mention of hosting a Super Bowl. Apparently, the supposed jobs and the influx of money from potential spectators in the event of hosting a Super Bowl were reason enough to convince legislators in Miami-Dade County to approve the bill.

With the blessing of ‘nine gullible commissioners’ as they were termed by columnist Carl Hiassen, this ‘request’ was driven through Miami-Dade county despite 73 percent voter opposition. This almost speaks more about America’s lawmaking system than it does about the ones trying to take advantage of it.

 To parallel the Dolphins outrageous request of taxpayer dollars, the Jaguars have added on a request for $52 million to make similar renovations. So, suddenly the clever idea of using scapegoat taxpayers to fund private ambitions becomes a trending idea. And now, someone in Orlando wants to build an MLS soccer stadium and owners in Daytona have decided that racetrack and seating improvements are absolutely imperative to the well-being of NASCAR. Come on, you’ve got to be kidding me.

 Proponents argue the stadium bill to be a worthy investment. OK, at least the security of a “good investment” might make the proposition tolerable, but why would anyone in their right mind commit $200 million funds to a man who isn’t even sure in the success of his own idea?

“People ask why don’t you we for the whole thing.” Ross said at the lunchtime press conference to the Miami Herald. “I’ve spent more on a sports team than anyone else in the United States. There’s a limit to how much capital you can put into something.”

Let’s examine that: “There’s a limit to how much capital you can put into something?” To put it in more straightforward terms that statement translates to “I’ve spent enough money trying to jumpstart this idea; now let someone else fund it, because I’m tired of paying for it.”

 What greater irony can exist in our society? On one hand, Brevard County students are fighting a battle to fund and ensure their continued participation in school athletics. On the other hand, these professional sports teams in Florida are demanding hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for stadium renovations, with the unsaid threat of leaving Florida should the demands go unfulfilled.

 The timing couldn’t be worse. With the shift to the pay-to-play system it will be rather interesting to just exactly how charitable and empathetic Brevard County residents are about the plight of the Dolphins and the Jaguars.

 The Sun Life Stadium is already a $634 million facility that received a $250 million publicly-funded facelift in 2007 for more or less the same improvements the Dolphins propose to make. After having the request for greater funds denied in 2010 and again in 2011, the Dolphins have finally managed to land an audience with Tallahassee legislators.

 However, what Stephen Ross fails to mention is that the team remains $230 million in debt due to the expenses incurred from previous renovations. Now it seeks another chunk of taxpayer money for a whimsical idea that guarantees nothing in return to taxpayers for their investment. Taxpayers neither receive discounts on tickets, nor any financial return for agreeing to fund this bill, so what’s in it for them?

Basically, it’s game for rich people sponsored by rich people for the benefit of rich people. Taxpayers are excluded from this elite triangle and yet they are asked to bear of burden of enabling such a thing. For me it’s pretty black and white. Apparently the mayors in Miami-Dade County and Gov. Rick Scott, who will all enjoy posh, private box seating among multi-millionaires come game-time, disagree with me.

So let’s hope that someone with some sense stops this selfish scheme before it goes any further. In the meantime, while rich men wager on wealthy games, students in Brevard County will be digging deeper and deeper into their pockets to continue playing the sports they love.