Principal Karen Hitchcock is set to make a final decision on the Athletics and Recreation Review by Dec. 31, following five months of consultation. The review’s 18 recommendations include cutting up to 14 of 24 interuniversity teams and raising athletics fees.
Queen’s Chair of Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin said the OUA as a whole is going through a period of change.
“At my first OUA meeting, we went around the table and we talked about what was happening on campus,” she said.
“Nine of the 17 schools were doing some form of athletic review,” she said.
“As a league, we are examining our sport model to see if the way we offer our sports is the right way; there’s been discussion that that needs to change, and that we need to look at different ways to bring different sports together.”
Dal Cin said a lot of this change is prompted by the introduction of entrance athletic financial awards (AFAs) this season, which allows OUA universities to offer first-year student-athletes up to $3,500 per season to attend their school. “I think that is becoming the reality of AFAs as costs go up in certain teams,” she said, adding that other costs such as transportation and accommodations have also increased drastically.
The University of Windsor also completed an athletics review this summer. Athletics Director Gord Grace said the review needs to go through university management because it could result in programs being cut.
“We’re still taking a look at it,” he said. “We have made some recommendations to senior management, and we’ll see where they want to go with it.”
“It’s not just a departmental decision, it’s a university decision,” he said. “If you were to change teams, that affects enrollment.”
Grace said his department’s funding hasn’t increased in proportion to their rising costs.
“It’s about a 1.5 per cent increase per year, while salaries go up 3 per cent a year,” he said. “We’re losing money right off the bat. … What we’re spending now won’t meet the budget for next year, so something has to happen.”
Grace said Windsor has three choices: to cut teams, get an increase in funding from the university, or get students to agree to a hike in their $116.10 athletic fee through a referendum.
“We’re looking for an increase to cover our increase in costs,” he said.
Queen’s athletics review recommended that more funding be given to top teams, largely to allow those teams to give out more entrance AFAs. Windsor was one of only three schools to oppose the system’s implementation.
Grace said his department’s limited resources meant this year’s introduction of AFAs would have created a budget crunch without help from the university administration, who chipped in $230,000 last year to fund AFAs despite voting to oppose their introduction. Grace said they did so because funding AFAs was vital to Windsor remaining competitive in interuniversity sports.
Peter Hellstrom, Laurentian University’s athletics director, said his school had to cut teams several years ago.
“In 2000, we went through a review process looking at athletics and the money the student government gave us through fees, and it was found that we were operating outside of our means,” he said.
Hellstrom said their review resulted in reducing their interuniversity programs from 14 to eight, and also required them to pay off the debt the athletics program had incurred.
“It’s a difficult time,” he said. “We chose in 2000 to fund what we could. We’d love to extend our sporting opportunities, but it’s what we can afford.”
Hellstrom said Laurentian can’t offer more than a few athletic financial awards due to their limited resources, which hurts their ability to compete in the OUA.
Darren Cates, the Royal Military College’s athletics director, said his school also had to cut their interuniversity programs from 30 down to 11 in 2001.
Cates said their cuts weren’t due to budget issues, however.
“Our narrowing down the programs was not in response to financial challenges, but due to our number of students,” he said.
Cates said his institution doesn’t give out AFAs, but their introduction still affects RMC’s athletics program.
“All of our students have a subsidized education through the Canadian Forces, so we do not grant AFAs and we will not grant AFAs,” he said. “It’s created a more competitive environment across Ontario.” Queen’s athletics review also recommended that Queen’s look at hiring as many full-time coaches as possible. Cates said RMC makes up for their small size and lack of AFAs by only employing full-time coaches, who don’t have other positions at the college and thus can spend all of their time focusing on their teams and their recruiting efforts.
“For us, it’s their sole job,” he said. “Coaching at the university level is a full-time job…. It helps minimize the differences between us and larger schools.”
Judy McCrae, the University of Waterloo’s athletics director, said they also aren’t currently looking at adding to or cutting any of their 33 programs.
“We’re fine with our focus at this point,” she said.
McCrae said their university has a policy that the athletics’ department’s operating budget can’t be used to fund athletic awards, so cutting teams wouldn’t allow them to provide more AFAs.
“No money from our current operating budget can be used for awards,” she said. “We have to raise money for awards.”
The Queen’s athletics review recommended that student-athletes be given early offers of admission and early course selection. McCrae said Waterloo isn’t considering a similar program.
“At the University of Waterloo, there is no academic break for student-athletes,” she said. “It’s not on our radar at this point in time.”
Bob Crawford, the co-author of Queen’s athletics review, said he was startled by the amount of controversy the proposal for early admission and early course selection stirred up.
“I would say the single biggest surprise I had was the fact that athletes pre-registering early got any attention at all,” he said. “Obviously we opened a can of worms there.”
Crawford said the proposal was meant to help student-athletes with their course conflicts rather than put them on a pedestal above students involved in other extracurricular activites.
“It doesn’t mean we value what they do any more,” he said. “It’s looking at a problem and trying to find a way to fix it.”
Dal Cin said it’s ultimately up to Hitchcock which direction Queen’s chooses—her department will be prepared for either cutting teams or continuing with the current slate.
“I think the consultation process will bring this vision for Athletics and Recreation into clarity, and the structure that we’ve put in place will support either direction the Principal wants to go,” she said.
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