Men’s tennis, soccer latest victims of budget cuts

On Monday, UW Oshkosh announced that it will be cutting two of its sports programs as well as restructuring two others. Men’s tennis and men’s soccer are scheduled to be eliminated from UWO athletics by 2017. In addition, the men’s and women’s teams of both cross-country and track and field will be combined respectively, creating a coed team for each sport. The controversial decision has athletes, coaches, parents and alumni up in arms. If UWO wants its athletics program to maintain the respect, diversity and alumni support it currently has, it should reconsider these drastic changes. In Monday’s largely unexpected press release, the University credited three reasons for the the decision, a major one being the virtually inevitable budget cuts that will be imposed by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration. The press release claims that based on data from studies done in 2010 and 2014, the University cannot sustain the current 21 sport model which “does a disservice to the entire athletics program.” Many including (soon-to-be former) UWO men’s head soccer coach Wytse Molenaar, are questioning the University’s logic when it comes to the budget. Molenaar passionately voiced his opinion along with several others who attended a Wednesday forum regarding the changes. “There’s an income associated with the students coming to school here that is higher than what our program costs to run,” Molenaar said. Molenaar is referring to the hundreds of thousands of dollars UWO soccer players pay in tuition, much of which will likely be lost due to transfers and decreased enrollment based on this decision. He then addressed Chancellor Andrew Leavitt directly. “You’re taking future opportunities away from a growing sport,” Molenaar said. “You’re saying this is related to the budget cuts– it’s not related to the budget cuts.” Molenaar also implied that the forum was deliberately scheduled at noon in the middle of the week– a time when many alumni are busy working and many students have class– to reduce attendance and support. In the press release, the University also said that better aligning itself with NCAA Title IX was a large factor in their decision. Title IX is the requirement for universities to provide equal opportunities for both men and women. The new changes will increase the percentage of female student athletes by 2 percent and decrease the percentage of male student athletes by 3 percent. This seemingly miniscule change in gender equality did not convince those at the forum. One woman who spoke said that Title IX is meant to increase opportunities for women, not decrease them for men. She also pointed out that although the percentages have changed, the females are not necessarily being given the same opportunities because of the coach to student ratio in the university’s biggest female sport, track and field, is lower than that of football and other sports. Under the new restructured program, there will be only one salaried track coach for about 110 coed athletes. The lack of complete conferences in men’s tennis and men’s soccer was another reason cited by UWO in the press release. In order to have an officially sanctioned conference, a sport must have at least five teams in its conference. Tennis has four and Soccer has three. Although it is apparent that there may be a lack of competition in the conference, it certainly does not mean the players don’t see an adequate amount of competition within the NCAA. Although neither teams are “automatic qualifiers” the tennis team had a fair amount of success in the late 90’s and the soccer team has always been one of the best in the state and even the country. Even if one overlooks the two supposedly unimportant conference championships that men’s soccer has won, the fact remains that they have qualified for the NCAA tournament for 13 of the 31 years that they have existed as a program, even making it to the Final Four on four separate occasions. With their impressive cumulative record of 412-118-52 and only one losing season, one has to question why the University would put such an abrupt end to such a storied and successful program. Almost everyone at the forum agreed that the decision was rushed and extremely undemocratic, one speaker even calling it deceitful. Many complained that Leavitt and Athletic Director Darryl Sims were the only ones involved in the decision making process. “There was no time period for us to give any input on the decision there was no time to come up with any solutions or collaborate with the athletics department or the administration, senior soccer player Daniel Cohen said. “It’s disappointing that this decision has already been made without any input from those affected.” Cohen said that the soccer players were not directly made aware of the decision until the press release on Monday. Many at the forum called for some sort of referendum on the matter and several alum suggested the idea of fundraising to obtain the roughly $60,000 that the soccer team needs to maintain its current budget. After all that’s how the football team was able to afford their $400,000 scoreboard back in 2011. When asked why the team couldn’t attempt to save themselves through fundraising, Sims said it wasn’t even being considered. “We prefer not to have to rely on fundraised dollars to support a program,” Sims said. “If we’re gonna have that program, we want that program to be funded from the university.” If UW Oshkosh desires a continued respect for its athletics then it should carefully reconsider the proposed cuts and changes it has unfairly imposed on former, current and future athletes and coaches. The “assembly on Wednesday felt more like a funeral than a forum with Sims calling the decision final. At the very least UWO needs to have a referendum in which the people affected get to have their opinions considered, not brushed aside for what Leavitt and Sims’ press release deemed “the best interest of the student-athletes that remain.”