Coaching changes to hurt player-coach relationships

By now, most of UW Oshkosh has heard of the University’s decision to restructure both its cross country and track & field teams in addition to cutting the men’s tennis and soccer programs. While many are focusing on the cuts, and rightfully so because of their devastating effects, the planned restructuring of two of UWO’s biggest sports will have several negative consequences as well. The University’s plan is to merge the men’s and women’s teams of both cross country and track & field while eliminating one full-time coaching position. Despite his undeniable success in women’s cross country, head coach Drew Ludtke will be let go at the end of the fall 2016 season. “In my time here, we have enjoyed huge progress in the distance events,” Ludtke said. “We have set six NCAA records and won 14 NCAA titles in the events I coach. I have enjoyed the athletes and people associated with UW Oshkosh.” This decision will effectively leave two coaches, Eamon Mckenna and Ben Dorsey responsible for 120 student athletes. Mckenna will be coaching the men’s and women’s cross country with Dorsey, heading men’s and women’s track. UWO athletic director Darryl Sims refused to comment on the decision directly. Several student athletes from the teams are worried about the repercussions these changes will bring. Sophomore track athlete Elizabeth Abhold said that she thinks the decision will ultimately lead to a less rewarding experience. “I think that the merging of the teams will lead to less of an individual focus and more of a group focus,” Abhold said. “We will lose the individuality that track promotes and is all about. In order to be a successful team in track, you need the individuals to perform at the highest level they can.” Abhold also said that she thinks player-coach relationships will suffer as a result of the extra students the coaches will be responsible for. Other athletes agreed that having a smaller coaching staff will be difficult for everyone on the team. “Obviously, the relationships that can be built with a team of 24 guys for cross country will be difficult to maintain with a group over double that size,” junior cross country runner Jordan Carpenter said. “Coach Eamon is extremely close with his athletes and there simply isn’t enough time during practice or even after for one person to attend to the number of athletes he will now oversee. “ Although the University claims the restructuring will save it money– which it will in the short term– students are concerned that the long term effects of the decision will affect recruiting and lead to decreased enrollment. Carpenter said if coach Mckenna doesn’t receive any full time assistants, recruiting for the team will be greatly affected. “Essentially, the recruiting responsibilities and coaching responsibilities are now doubled,” Carpenter said. “Without someone there to help, I believe recruiting will suffer and ultimately we could see the size of the teams shrink as a result. This could in turn affect the enrollment at the University.” Even so, the University maintains that it does not expect enrollment to drop from the restructuring of the teams. If it is proven to be wrong however, UWO could lose much more than it plans to save through the restructuring. Each in-state student enrolled at UWO pays around $7,500 per year in tuition. In addition, the University receives a subsidy from the state that grants them another $7,688 per student enrolled over the 2014-2015 academic year. Some have estimated decreased enrollment as a direct result of restructuring could be as high as 40 students over the next three years. Even if that number is cut in half to 20, UWO can expect to lose roughly $300,000 in income over that period. Although the University hasn’t released any specifics, an inside source who wished to remain anonymous said he was told the restructuring will save UWO $81,000, a number he thinks is inflated. The coaching position being eliminated only pays $35,000, perhaps as much as $50,000 when benefits are taken into account. This number falls over $30,000 short of the projected savings, leaving him and others in the program questioning the University’s financial transparency. The University said that NCAA Title IX was another factor in the decision to cut and restructure the teams. Title IX was created to promote gender equality in college sports. In an April 6 press release, UWO said the changes would increase the percentage of female athletes by 2 percent while reducing the male athlete population by 3 percent. This may be the case, immediately, but the percentages are sure to change if enrollment drops as a result of the restructuring. In addition, by reducing the number of coaches in the program, the athletes in two of UWO’s largest female sports, track and cross country, can expect a lower quality experience than that of male athletes in sports such as football, which has four coaches on the University payroll. The press release states “UW Oshkosh is committed to the success of all student athletes and believes in providing a competitive and rewarding experience.” If this truly is the case then UWO needs to reconsider its decisions regarding track & field, cross country, men’s soccer and men’s tennis. “All student athletes” means just that. If the University continues to prioritize certain sports over others, it will diminish its athletic reputation and cheapen the experience of its student athletes.