Titan athletes concerned with University’s actions

Erik Buchinger

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In wake of the elimination of the men’s soccer and men’s tennis teams following this academic year, student-athletes voiced their displeasure with the athletic department during and after the UW Oshkosh Student-Athlete Meet & Greet on Sept. 14.

Junior soccer player Nick Woodbury attended last year’s inaugural Meet & Greet and described it as “a fun time.”

“It’s an event that we enjoyed last year, and I’m sure we would have enjoyed it again this year,” Woodbury said. “We felt bad about leaving because we like the other athletes.”

This year’s event began with a group photo featuring the student athletes of UWO. When it came time to take the picture, members of the men’s soccer team took off the gray “Kolf Pack” t-shirt that was given to them. Underneath were yellow t-shirts that said “SaveUWOSoccer” across the front.

Athletic Director Darryl Sims and Assistant Athletic Director Vicci Stimac told the players to put the shirts back on before Woodbury spoke up.

“It was a kind of a spur of the moment type of thing, but I stood up and I just said ‘we’re not going to do that’, and they asked us to leave,” Woodbury said.

Woodbury said he wanted some questions answered before the team left, and Sims mentioned it was not the right time or place for that discussion.

According to Woodbury, the team was originally told the athletic program cuts were related to not having an automatic-qualifying conference championship, Title IX and the budget.

“We raised over $60,000, and now we’re told by [Chancellor Andrew Leavitt] that it’s not about the budget and that all we need to do is find a conference,” Woodbury said. “If all we need to do is find a conference, why isn’t the athletic director trying to find us a conference, considering that’s his job?”

Woodbury said everyone deserved to know and wanted everybody to know the situation of what is happening between the athletic department and the men’s soccer program. After the discussion was finished, each men’s soccer player walked out of the Kolf Sports Center as a team.

Heading into the Meet & Greet, the team debated the protest because they did not want to alienate themselves from the other student athletes.

“We love being a part of this university,” Woodbury said. “This is where we want to play, and we’re friends with a great deal of our fellow athletes, so we were worried about how that would be received, and we think it was received well for most of them.”

UW Oshkosh senior volleyball player Mandy Trautmann was in attendance and described the scene as “a quiet and awkward atmosphere.”

“I think some people that didn’t know what was happening were confused, and others had many different thoughts about the situation,” Trautmann said. “Some were thinking it wasn’t the right time or place, but others were thinking that there aren’t many times that all athletic teams are all in one building so it was time to stick up for what they wanted.”

Trautmann said if the women’s volleyball team was in jeopardy of losing its program, she would have done the same thing.

“If I were to put myself in that situation, I would want to defend my team as well,” Trautmann said. “No one wants a sport to be cut. I believe that if others think there is a chance to get back those sports to the athletic department, they should keep defending themselves.”

Men’s soccer was not the only team left out of the UWO student-athlete group photo. According to junior men’s tennis player Austin Laumb, he received an email from Sims a few days after the Meet & Greet.

“Darryl Sims emailed us after the fact saying that he just forgot about us,” Laumb said.

Laumb received an email from Sims the day of the Meet & Greet, but it was regarding the search for a new head coach. Daniel Bickett coached the men’s and women’s tennis teams for one year before resigning in July.

“[Sims] emailed me the day of the Meet & Greet but didn’t say anything about [it]” Laumb said. “Then later on, he emailed us about forgetting to invite us.”

Though she was unaware that men’s tennis was not invited, Trautmann said the team should have been appreciated.

“I think it is a little unappreciative of what they do,” Trautmann said. “They are still part of the Titan community.”

Woodbury said he was surprised when he saw a Facebook comment that said the men’s tennis team was not invited.

“If the men’s tennis team wasn’t made aware of the event, then I think that is absolutely ridiculous,” Woodbury said. “They’re still a team here on campus.”

After being at the Meet & Greet last year, Laumb said men’s tennis was interested in attending again, and the team likely would have joined the men’s soccer team.

“I would have wanted to go for sure,” Laumb said. “The team wanted to go, but I wouldn’t have made a scene like the soccer team did. But once they got kicked out of the photo, I probably would have stood up and walked out of the photo as well.

Laumb said the team is upset about being left out of the event.

“We feel he’s [Sims] not really doing his job if he forgets to invite us,” Laumb said. “He’s not doing a very good job communicating with us.”

Woodbury said he is confident that the University will have men’s soccer next year, and the team is trying to make more people aware of the situation by exposing the administration’s actions.

“We definitely think the just decision would be to reinstate the program based on all the lies we’ve been told over the past five or six months because they have been extensive,” Woodbury said. “If more people knew about what was going on, they would be shocked and it wouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

Woodbury and the majority of the men’s soccer team met with Sims and Stimac on Tuesday morning in the Kolf Sports Center meeting room. According to Woodbury, the meeting did not go well.

“We were disappointed after meeting with him,” Woodbury said. “We found out that at no point did he attempt to remedy our conference problem, and he told us that he will do nothing to help us in the future.”

According to Sims, UW-Superior leaving the conference was a concern because it dropped the conference to four teams, and the WIAC needs five for a conference championship. Finlandia left as well because the conference championship status had been eliminated.

During the meeting, Sims reiterated what Leavitt said to a group of men’s soccer alumni in Milwaukee this summer.

“[Leavitt] told me what he said to the alums was the only way that we would reinstate men’s soccer if two other schools came on board and reinstated men’s soccer so that we could have a conference championship status,” Sims said to the team. “That’s it.”

The team discussed the amount of money that has been fundraised to support the men’s soccer program, but Sims said the University decided it would never keep a program that was going to be funded by fundraised dollars.

“We believe in order for any program to be able to sustain itself, it has to be funded by the University because at some point, the fundraising piece can certainly stop,” Sims said.

UW-La Crosse baseball was brought up as an example by the team, who nearly lost the program in 2009. Because of fundraising, the program stayed alive, and the Eagles finished as the runner up in the NCAA Division III World Series in Appleton this spring.

“Darryl could not come up with a downside to the plan but still refused to consider,” Woodbury said. “Overall, it was a very frustrating meeting. We don’t believe that an athletic director who doesn’t care about the athletes should hold the position that he does.”

To conclude the meeting, a soccer player asked Sims if he would do anything in the next few weeks to help the team try to find a conference.

“No, we’re done,” Sims said.

Woodbury said the men’s soccer team does not know how genuine the athletic director’s words are regarding the elimination of the program.

“[Sims] told us how many times how sorry he was and how terrible he felt for having to make the decision,” Woodbury said. “Now that he doesn’t have to make this decision, we wonder if those feelings were truly sincere.”