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MISSOULA - University of Montana administrators want student leaders to endorse an athletic fee increase to pay for the proposed women's softball program.

UM students currently pay $92 per year in athletic fees, which school officials say is the lowest in the Big Sky Conference. Administrators want to collect an additional $25 per year for the next two school years, and then increase the fee by another $25 for a total of $142 per year, which President Royce Engstrom said is about average for the league.

The fee would generate about $800,000 annually, depending on enrollment. Engstrom said a women's softball team would cost an estimated $700,000 per year. Any additional money would stay with the athletics department.

School officials have proposed adding a women's softball team beginning in the spring of 2014 to meet federal Title IX standards intended to guarantee women have equitable access to sports.

The Missoulian reports administrators hadn't planned on seeking student input until they learned the state Board of Regents requires asking the students first, through a referendum or a vote of the student governing body. The policy does not require students to approve the fee, just that the outcome of the vote must be reported to the regents.

The Associated Students of the University of Montana will consider the athletic fee increase during their meeting next Wednesday. UM wants to take its proposed fee hike to the regents in May.

Last year, a campus wide referendum rejected an athletic fee increase of nearly the same amount to pay for new athletic facilities, including a weight room, locker room and study center.

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