UWO to cut men’s tennis and soccer

Sarah Zander

UW Oshkosh men’s tennis and soccer teams will be cut from the school’s athletic program following the 2015-2016 academic year. UWO Athletic Director Darryl Sims and Chancellor Andrew Leavitt answered questions from the soccer and tennis team, coaches, parents and alumni Wednesday afternoon in an open forum. Despite attempts at the forum from several alumni and parents to suggest allowing the team to fundraise, Leavitt and Sims said the teams couldn’t be sustained on fundraising alone. “The decision has been made,” Sims said. “As we stand here today, it’s final.” The programs will be cut due to the upcoming state budget cuts, but according to a statement from the athletics program, this decision is one that has been studied for several years. “In 2010, an analysis was done on the structure of the athletics department, and it was determined then that we have too many sports to sufficiently support,” an athletics department press release stated. There was also a financial audit in 2014 that determined the same findings. UWO’s athletic program said continuing this model does a disservice to the entire athletics program as a whole. “In the best interest of the student athletes that remain after this reduction, we will phase out these two sports and be in a better position to support our full array of programs,” the press release stated. According to the press release, 35 student athletes and two coaches will be impacted by these program cuts, but players at the forum said it will truly be affecting many more than that. Nicholas Woodbury, a sophomore on the UWO soccer team, said this cut affects more than the athletes and coaches. “This decision directly affects all of the recruits that have committed to play at this institution and all of the alumni that hold this team so dear to their heart,” Woodbury said. “[Men’s soccer coach] Wytse Molenaar mentioned that neither Chancellor Leavitt nor Mr. Sims have any idea how large the soccer community is and this was a perfect example of that.” Woodbury said after attending both the student athlete forum on Tuesday night as well as the open forum, he’s even more disappointed with how the situation is being handled. “With that being said, we are not finished with this process,” Woodbury said. “My teammates, coaches and I are collaborating with alumni and parents to research what options we have and what actions we may need to take in the future in order to save our program.” Other sports being affected include both men’s and women’s track & field and men’s and women’s cross country, which will be combined under a restructured coaching staff. The athletics program said determining which sports would be cut came down to several key factors including whether the sport was an automatic qualifier, whether the sport had an opportunity for a conference championship, the conference affiliation of the sport and the goal of meeting Title IX guidelines with respect to gender balance on the roster. The athletics program said the money saved from cutting these sports will contribute to the stable funding and support of the remaining programs, athletes and coaches. Molenaar said he was shocked when he was given the news from Sims on Monday morning. Molenaar and men’s tennis coach Daniel Bickett both said they currently have no other information about the cuts other than what they were told by Sims on Monday morning. Bickett said he and Sims had a meeting in his office where he was informed UWO would be ending the men’s tennis program following next season. The players from both teams were also told about the cuts prior to the press release. Bickett said he’s extremely disappointed the team will be cut because the student athletes work hard to represent UWO. “These young men are passionate about tennis and our great University and it’s sad they won’t be able to combine those two passions after next year,” Bickett said. Bickett said as unfortunate as the cuts are, he believes they will help the University and athletic department become more sustainable with the changing budget landscape. “We will play our hardest and hope to represent UWO well in the rest of our matches this season and next year,” Bickett said. UWO sophomore and tennis player Austin Laumb said the team was called into a meeting and told very bluntly they were going to be cut. “I feel terrible that I’ve worked this hard all my life and transferred from a school 10 hours away to play tennis,” Laumb said. “I even asked before transferring if this would ever happen and they said it would not be cut.” Laumb said he would not have chosen to attend UWO if he knew the tennis team would get cut. “It’s even worse that we were told this late in the year, and being a sophomore it’s almost too late to transfer to another school,” Laumb said. Javier Simon, a freshman on the soccer team, said he was planning to play all four of his eligible years at UWO. Simon said he missed the team meeting where they were informed of the cuts. “There was no warning or sign that this was going to happen, not even to Coach Wytse,” Simon said. “It blindsided all of us.” Simon said the news is devastating and it has flipped his and others’ entire plan for college upside down. “These are the guys I planned on spending the next four years of my life with from early morning training sessions to moving into a house together,” Simon said. “Soccer is a massive part of all of our lives and I’m not sure that it is something we can be without.” Simon said although he has enjoyed his time so far at UWO, this news is making him rethink his options. “I can honestly say I’ve had the best time of my life over these past several months at this University,” Simon said. “Soccer has been an enormous part of my life so far, and I, as well as many of my teammates, have to think if it’s OK to give that up already.”