Is cutting eight to 14 varsity teams a good idea?

point counterpoint

Mike Woods
Mike Woods
Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz

Varsity sports is about winning, not participation

The University’s recently released review of Athletics and Recreation raises many questions about sporting life at Queen’s. Of the 18 recommendations made by review authors Bob Crawford and Janice Deakin, the most controversial is the “excellence model” that proposes to reduce the number of interuniversity teams to between 10 and 16.

In this section of the review, Crawford and Deakin did two things. Firstly, they established what the goal of interuniversity sport at Queen’s should be—excellence in competition. Second, they ranked the 34 sports and competitive clubs at Queen’s according to 20 criteria ranging from success and coaching staff to facilities and financial factors.

As with any such ranking, there will be many who are unhappy with the list. Men’s hockey had its first playoff berth in years, and it would be cut according to the review’s rankings. So would figure skating, a perennial OUA contender.

Of the 20 criteria, the ones with the most weight were clearly those based on competition. Men’s volleyball was ranked first due to its consecutive OUA championships.

The review implores Queen’s Athletics and Recreation to reset its priorities. As an institution that prides itself on its academic reputation, Queen’s cannot let athletics slide into oblivion. Changes must be made.

It is true that increased funding to a select few sports does not guarantee championships. That is the beauty of sport: in the end the result is left to the athletes. But what funding does create is a climate of winning that allows coaches and athletes to feel the institution is fully behind them. In other words, a good chance to succeed is better than a fleeting one.

Successful sports teams contribute to university life in ways nothing else can. Already renowned for its school spirit, Queen’s campus life would be enhanced by the chance to support teams with winning traditions.

Now some might ask, why cut sports now? Men’s volleyball won its second consecutive OUA championship last year and football and men’s hockey had breakthrough seasons. Surely athletics is on the right track?

A focus on a few marquee varsity sports, rather than continued support of a large number, is necessary because the climate of Canadian interuniversity sport is changing. In Ontario, this year will be the first in which athletic scholarships can be offered, and other universities are cutting sports to gain ground. Queen’s faces the choice of keeping up with the pack by refocusing its resources, or maintaining the status quo and falling hopelessly behind.

The bottom line is that interuniversity sport is about winning. Participation has its merits, but that’s what intramural teams and competitive clubs are for. The recommended cuts to varsity sports would enable Athletics and Recreation to excel in a select few. An availability of resources, full-time coaches, more practice time and support for athletes would create a climate of success that Queen’s students could enjoy for years to come.

--Mike Woods

Cutting teams not a guarantee for success

There is much that’s laudable about the recently released Athletics and Recreation review. It is obvious the review’s authors, Bob Crawford and Janice Deakin, did exhaustive research into the problems facing Queen’s in the areas of athletics and recreation. Their review also makes clear recommendations, many of which are valuable. However, in the area of interuniversity sports, their review goes too far.

The review recommends reducing the current 24 interuniversity teams to between 10 and 16, and funding the remaining teams at an “excellence” level. Excellence is a great goal, as is winning championships, but increased funding to a particular team or program does not always guarantee success.

Consider baseball, for example. Two current division leaders and their team payrolls (from USA Today’s website) are the San Diego Padres ($58 million) and the Milwaukee Brewers ($71 million). Meanwhile, the New York Yankees, with a bloated payroll of almost $190 million, have barely won more games than they’ve lost. Extra funding can help, but merely pouring money into programs does not mean they will produce championships.

This is particularly a problem when other schools choose to fund the same sports. Consider Brock University, the Ontario school with the most far-reaching cuts so far. Brock suspended the operation of five varsity programs, but will still field teams in most of the conventional sports. If Queen’s decided to only field 10 interuniversity teams next year, and went with the top 10 according to the Athletics Review (see page 25 for a full list of team rankings), the Gaels would still face Brock in eight of those 10 sports. If other universities cut programs, their remaining core will likely be very similar to the teams left at Brock, and the proposed core left at Queen’s. Thus, the net result is that every school funnels money to the same programs, no one gains an advantage, and programs are cut for no reason.

Sports are unpredictable, and medal-winning athletes frequently pop up where you least expect them. Over the past few years, Queen’s has had athletes excel in many under-the-radar sports, such as wrestling and fencing—ranked 21st and 23rd, respectively, in the review.

Fortunately, the review does suggest funding for exceptional athletes in sports not covered by Queen’s, and also proposes an alternate club scheme. However, the review itself recognizes this scheme will not be sustainable for some teams, especially those that participate in league competitions. A change to club status would likely cause some teams to fold. This will be a loss to Queen’s, to the athletes involved, and to Canada’s national teams, many of whose athletes have come up from the university ranks.

The idea of redirecting funding to some of the more successful teams is not a bad one, but the proposed number of teams is too low. The massive deficits the review projects for funding teams at this new level are also frightening. A better solution would be to increase direct University funding to allow more teams to be retained while diverting some funding to the more successful teams, rather than the drastic measures the review proposes.

--Andrew Bucholtz

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