Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cuts spread to University of Calgary

The University of Calgary announced [Ben Matchett, University of Calgary Sports Information Director] today that they will cut varsity funding [Neate Sager, The CIS Blog] to the men's soccer and women's field hockey teams. There's a chance that those teams could still survive if they're able to raise funds through alternative methods, but it doesn't look good for them. Tennis and golf have also been lowered to competitive club status. By contrast, women's soccer will be returned to fully-funded status and women's hockey is applying to return to CIS play after winning the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. After the changes, Calgary will have eight fully-funded team sports (men’s and women’s basketball, football, men’s and women’s hockey, women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s volleyball) and fully-funded teams in cross country, swimming, track and field and wrestling.

This isn't all that surprising, as plenty of American and Canadian schools have been moving towards this kind of streamlined program for some time [myself, Queen's Journal]. Two American schools also announced cuts today; the University of Maine axed volleyball and men's soccer [Mike Webster,] and Wenatchee Valley College (in Washington State) also cut its men's soccer team [Brent Stecker, The Wenatchee World Online]. (Thanks to Austin Winnie for those links, by the way). The economic situation perhaps provided the final impetus to make some of these changes, but things have been moving iin that direction for a while.

It is curious that this move came at Calgary, though. Many of the schools looking at these cuts so far have been in the OUA [myself, Queen's Journal], and have cited the recently increased availability of first-year athletic financial awards as the rationale for their decisions. Canada West has offered these awards for a much longer period of time, so they aren't a sudden or unexpected stress on the department. Instead, Calgary athletic director Kevin Boyles said in the release that the move was made to refocus resources into the more successful programs. The timing is somewhat unusual, though, as Calgary won 12 titles last year, including national titles in women's swimming and women's wrestling as well as Canada West titles in football and men's basketball. It doesn't seem that their current model was terribly flawed from that perspective.

This isn't necessarily a bad move in my mind. Varsity programs need significant resources to be successful, and it's good to see the university attempting to provide those resources. Moreover, men's soccer and women's field hockey haven't been very successful lately at Calgary, and that's the ultimate measurement that has to be used here. It is disappointing to see so many schools viewing men's soccer as an easy cut, though; university soccer is very high-calibre and can often lead to pro contracts for players, such as Trinity Western's Paul Hamilton, who just signed with the Whitecaps [myself, The 24th Minute]. Moreover, soccer's gaining popularity rapidly in Canada, and will only expand further once Vancouver (and potentially Montreal) join Toronto in MLS. Most schools currently don't draw a lot of fans for their soccer games, but that could change dramatically in a few years, by which point it might be desirable to have a soccer team at your university.

One final small point to make here. In his otherwise excellent post on the matter, Neate makes an interesting argument:

"A university doesn't owe people a varsity team. At the same time, it should preserve individual sports such as track, swimming and cross-country for the same reason a school has to have an English or philosophy department. It's sort of central to the idea of university that you offer these sports that might not be sexy, but reveal character and discipline. (Sorry to get so flowery!)"

I agree with the first sentence of that paragraph, but I can't support the rest of it. University sports aren't primarily about participation or learning experiences and individual sports don't reveal any more character or discipline than team sports, at least in my mind. Each sport has its own set of struggles, and athletes in all of them deserve respect. At the end of the day, there's no point in offering sports just for the hell of it. Universities have sports teams so they can go out there and win, earning more exposure and publicity for the school in the process. If I'm running a university sports department, I'm basing my decisions on what teams are likely to win and bring in good publicity, not out of any sense of duty to preserve a sport like track or swimming for aesthetic reasons. Schools should compete in as many sports as they can while maintaining a strong program in each in my mind, and if cuts need to be made to make that a reality, they should be performance-based. It looks like that's what Calgary has done, and they deserve applause for that.

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