Sports cuts reexamined in light of increasing athletics debt

In April of 2010, Chancellor Linda Katehi and former Athletics Director Greg Warzecka announced that UC Davis would be cutting women’s rowing, men’s swimming and diving, men’s wrestling and men’s indoor track and field. The decision came at the cost of athletes’ careers and sporting legacies, but it was expected to save an estimated $2.4 million.

The intention was to ease the Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) debt, but instead, the deficit has doubled.

Some question if the reasoning behind cancelling teams was as financially pressing as reported, especially in light of the application of sex equality laws and administrative silence toward the directly impacted student-athletes.

With a newly appointed Athletic Director in place who stresses more transparent proceedings, some see the future of UC Davis sports as a positive one. But others fear facing the same closed doors and questionable motives that were experienced in 2010.

ICA and students’ wallets
As the department continues to forge ahead in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1, Athletics Director Terry Tumey envisions having UC Davis’ academic and athletic prestige on level ground.

However, this dream will not be realized unless the budget crisis within the athletic program is resolved.

According to the UC Davis Athletics 2011-12 financial review and 2012-13 budget, the net deficit increased from to $1,429,858 to $3,612,220 in one year.

The athletics department blames accounting discrepancies for a portion of the high numbers.

“We had an accounting shift this last year where the NCAA revenues we receive are now accounted for in the following year, so it makes [the deficit] look a whole lot worse than it actually is,” Tumey said. “That being said, it means no excuse. The [athletics department] needs to go out and do more in the way of raising revenue.”

Although the 2010 cancellations were expected to save the university $2.4 million, the ever-increasing deficit raises serious concerns as to where the supposedly saved money is going, and why the teams were eliminated if their removal did not make a significant impact on the debt.

“The lion’s share of the costs are due to scholarships, the P.E. program, and salaries and benefits,” Tumey said. “[In regards to the 2010 cuts] there was a definite effect on the financial bottom line.”

UC Davis students support 75 percent of ICA’s budget through various student fees paid along with tuition — $18 million. Athletics takes a share of the Student Activities and Services Initiative (89 percent), the Campus Expansion Initiative (36 percent), the Facilities and Campus Enhancements (22.47 percent) and the Student Services Fee (6.96 percent) paid by each student, for a total of $654 per year. With the cancellation of sports not effectively negating the debt, some are concerned that these fees will increase with the ICA deficit.

“Student fees are not expected to increase — students are the reason why we are succeeding as a department and as a university, and we don’t [want their athletic fees to increase],” Tumey said. “Instead, we are looking to cover the deficit through fundraising and fostering corporate sponsorships with those who share our value system.”

Funding is more likely to come as UC Davis receives more nationwide attention, like the recent ESPN-televised CSU Long Beach basketball game, he added.

Sacrificing interest for equality
While the four teams were never provided a detailed explanation as to why they were singled out to be cut, university officials noted that Title IX compliance had to be upheld no matter what.

Title IX requires that public schools allocate proportional spending — for both the team’s expenses as well as scholarship dollars — on male and female sports based off of demographical populations, as well as to provide proportionate numbers of male and female positions on teams.

Public education institutions must be in compliance with the Title in order to continue to receive funding from the government.

“First, a school can comply by offering male and female students athletic opportunities that are substantially proportional to the percentage of undergraduate male and female students who are enrolled at the institution,” said Title IX Chief Compliance Officer Wendi Delmendo in an email interview. “Second, a school can comply by demonstrating continuing expansion of its athletic program for the underrepresented gender … Third, the university must survey its student body about the athletic interests and establish that it is providing opportunities that satisfy those interests for the underrepresented gender.”

UC Davis only needs to uphold one of the criteria to be in compliance with law, but instead upholds all three. While this can be a cursor to the administration’s own progressive, firm stance against sexism, some see upholding all three prongs of the title as an unnecessary amount of legal red tape.

“Things like this have a tendency to work themselves out based on interest level. If nobody shows up to try out for a sport, [and] if the interest level is low, then it makes sense that it would get cut. That just wasn’t the case with wrestling,” said Morgan Flaharty, a fifth-year exercise biology major and art minor and former wrestler.

Administrators stand by the law and the decision to uphold all three criteria.

“Title IX was not set up to minimize opportunities for men, it was put in place to allow women the same opportunity and access as men … It is unfortunate that financial burdens have been so widespread across the country and athletic departments are not immune from that. Both men and women’s programs have been affected, so to say that it is detracting from male opportunities is a common misconception,” said Nona Richardson, senior associate athletics director, in an email interview.

Some say this forced numbers-game may suggest why men’s swimming and diving, wrestling and indoor track were chosen to be dropped: the combined 80 men could balance the 73 women on the rowing team.

The cuts
Although there was some indication that budgetary cuts were expected in 2010, the manner in which players and coaches were notified continues to confuse those involved to this day.

“The way my teammates and I were told that wrestling was getting cut was that on Picnic Day, we got a text message,” Flaharty said. “We all thought we were safe; we had a really big alumni community, UFC world championship backers, and we were successful in our league. It just didn’t make sense.”

The women’s rowing team was especially surprised at their discontinuation, considering the recent growth of the sport.

“Most schools are actually adding rowing teams. They use that as one of the ‘big women’s sports’ to balance [the rosters]. It was unusual that we were cut. It was unheard of,” said Emily Neary, president of the club women’s rowing team, which formed following the 2010 cut.

The players were not the only ones kept in the dark regarding the Athletics Department’s proceedings.

“I found out that wrestling was being cut ten minutes before the press release,” said former head coach Lennie Zalesky, who now coaches wrestling at California Baptist University.

The cuts were not due to athletes’ lacking talent. In 2007, the wrestling team had a NCAA Weight Class Champion, and Scott Weltz from the men’s swimming team went on to compete in the 2012 Olympics after graduating in 2010.

“I never would have made the Olympic Team going to any other school. I loved my time at UC Davis, and I still love being a part of the Davis community,” Weltz said in an email. “I would not have attended Davis without a swim team because swimming in college and being a student athlete was very important to me. Without a swim team at Davis, I would have gone somewhere that had one.”

Zelsky said the wrestling team wasn’t given the option to fundraise.

“We attempted to save ourselves financially, but there was not a whole lot of talk. The doors got shut on us,” he said.

Swimmers said they raised enough money to self-sustain, but were also barred from continuing their program independently.

“The athletic department didn’t like that style [of independent fundraising]; they said it wasn’t a sustainable way to keep the program going,” said Alex Daneke, who transferred to swim at CSU Bakersfield. “We just wanted to raise enough to play until everyone on the team graduated.”

University officials didn’t confirm or deny Daneke’s and Zelsky’s versions of what happened in regards to fundraising.

Aftermath
Although the 2010 cuts continue to cause distrust and bitterness toward the perceived intentions of administration, Tumey is committed to bettering the future.

“We are still paying for the cuts. People were hurt, we saw some financial relief, but it was at the cost of student opportunities. In moving forward, we need to be smart and find solutions to maintain our current [teams],” he said.

Tumey said that he has no plans for more teams to face cancellation, and that the topic of conversation needs to change.

“The concentration on deletion of sports has been such a continually picked on and such a sensitive subject. It isn’t productive, and it doesn’t allow for growth to continue,” Tumey said. “I understand that a lot of people are still impacted by the cancellations. Although ICA tried to mitigate the impact it had on students [by] ensuring that scholarships were still honored, nothing can really lessen the blow or make it less of a traumatic experience.”

Following the cuts, administration made strides to ensure that scholarships awarded to athletes were still honored and that opportunities to continue on a club-team level were made.

However, the reality of the situation turned out to be very different for some. Daneke said he left Davis because he lost a scholarship that he was set to receive his sophomore year. However, the 2010 cuts happened at the end of his first year, meaning his promised scholarship was nullified.

“I wasn’t financially prepared for that money to be gone,” he said. “I tried going to the athletic department with the email that said that the scholarship would still be honored, but it was no use. I love Davis, but I couldn’t afford to go back.”

Even with women’s club rowing experiencing success, the transition was difficult for many. There is not a single women’s rower from the ICA team currently on the club team.

“There is still a really big group of passionate players out there, but the transition from being paid to play a sport to paying an upwards of a thousand dollars a year per player [on club] was hard [for former rowers],” Neary said.

Others wonder how future students will react to the decrease in available sports programs.

“I do not feel bitter, but I feel sad the others might not ever get to experience what I did at UC Davis,” Weltz said.

HANNAH KRAMER can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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