Review sparks mixed feelings

Community expresses concerns about cuts, early pre-registration at town hall

Squash coach Eugene Zaremba states his case at Tuesday’s town hall.
Squash coach Eugene Zaremba states his case at Tuesday’s town hall.
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Principal Karen Hitchcock got an earful Tuesday as more than 100 people crowded into the JDUC’s McLaughlin Room to laud and condemn the Athletics and Recreation Review. After the summary, Hitchcock and moderator Sean Conway opened the floor to those present. Ruth McArthur of the women’s lacrosse team was the first to speak. McArthur said she was concerned that her team was ranked 22nd by the review despite their string of three straight OUA silver medals and the rising popularity of lacrosse.

“Lacrosse is now one of the fastest growing sports in Canada,” she said.

She said the team’s low profile on campus unfairly hurt their rankings. “Fundraising for a sport when very few people know about it is hard.”

Eugene Zaremba, a physics professor and the head coach of the squash team, said he felt the review was designed with the specific agenda of focusing on CIS sports.

“I can’t help but feel that the authors of this review had a certain model in mind,” he said. “I think their choices are taking us in the wrong direction.”

Zaremba said he was unhappy with the way the rankings were conducted.

“They ranked teams one to 34 without giving a quantitative score,” he said. “Without a quantitative interpretation of that score, we can’t see what that really means.”

Zaremba added that he thinks the criteria used to grade the teams were biased.

“There is a lot of subjectivity in this review.”

Roger Healey, an assistant coach with the women’s hockey team who works in Institutional Research and Planning at Queen’s, said his experience with rankings led him to question the approach the review took.

“The big concern I have with the whole review is the ranking system,” he said. “I’ve been involved with rankings a long time … and I know what the pitfalls of rankings are. You try to put in a lot of numbers, make it seem like a lot of scientific thought went into it.”

Healey said the review’s system was poorly conceived by most rankings’ standards.

“It’s arbitrary, it’s arcane—because no one can understand how it’s derived at—and it’s absurd,” he said. “There’s a lot of scoring points that I guess were arrived at in a dartboard method. If financial reasons were one of the main reasons we looked at cutting teams, why was less than 10 per cent of the score based on finances?”

Queen’s sailing team president Seth Whitmore said he was unhappy with the focus the review put on CIS sports at the expense of teams like sailing, which competes in international leagues and tournaments outside of the CIS system.

“The CIS system is based on how many Canadian schools participate in a sport before it gets recognized, and I don’t think that’s going to engage the world,” he said.

Whitmore said the proposal for student-athletes to have early pre-registration is necessary to ensure the survival of sports such as sailing, where all four of the team’s rookies this year wound up quitting the team due to conflicts between courses and practice times.

“You have to separate student-athletes and students, and while [students] might moan and complain, you might have to do it,” he said.

Commerce Society President Dave Waugh said the society’s assembly authorized him to throw their support behind the review’s recommendations. Waugh said the review’s focus on excellence is what Queen’s athletics should strive for.

“Winning is fun, and if you’re not winning, we have intramurals,” he said.

Waugh said the society supports the proposals to give athletes early pre-registration and early offers of admission.

“We recognize the unique contributions of student-athletes to our community, and feel those needs are justified,” he said. “This is one rare tool that we have to recruit athletes. Athletes are different and we have to recognize that.”

Waugh said the society also supports an increased student fee for athletics and recreation.

“To be the best, you have to pay,” he said.

Fourth-year basketball forward Rob Shaw said his team needs the increased funding the review proposes.

“We stay at the cheapest hotels possible, and if you want to talk to rookies about how easy it is to sleep on air mattresses, go ahead,” he said. “Our old coach left to go to Windsor because he thought Queen’s wasn’t committed to winning a national championship. … People are forced to go to the squash courts to practice ball handling.”

Shaw cited the department’s lack of a sports doctor as a key shortfall in funding.

“I think this is unacceptable and should be fixed,” he said.

Men’s volleyball head coach Brenda Willis said she supported the review’s proposal to increase funding to the top-ranked teams.

“For the last 20 years, I’ve felt I’m trying to win despite a system instead of with it,” she said. “When I try to attract elite athletes to Queen’s, I get told, ‘Why would I want to come to Queen’s? You run a glorified intramural program as a varsity program.’”

Willis said the goal of excellence is laudable.

“We’re putting a lot of money on the table in terms of fees now to represent and participate,” she said. “That’s expensive to be mediocre.”

Steve Chapman, a medical student who has competed for both the mountain biking and triathlon teams, said the review’s authors never got in touch with anyone from his teams.

“The coach wasn’t contacted, the captain wasn’t contacted, no one was contacted,” he said, “We have a couple of internationally ranked athletes who are quite successful, but no one asked us.”

Student senator Max Rubin said he was opposed to the plans to hike the athletics fee, particularly because the Queen’s Centre fee, which includes athletics and recreation facilities, is set to rise from $71 to $151 next year.

“How many more fees are we putting on students?” he asked. “Please show me a correlation between increased fees and increased athletic success.”

Rubin said that he was troubled by the decreased variety of free physical activity classes offered by Queen’s Athletics this year, and by the pre-registration proposal.

Jeremy Tertrault-Farber, ArtSci ’09 and a member of Queen’s Bands, said he thought the pre-registration proposal was biased towards athletes over students involved in other extracurricular activities.

“Students choose for themselves what to do in their spare time,” he said. “It’s completely unfair.”

Football coach Pat Sheahan said the proposal would be fair given the time commitment required for student-athletes.

“If we’re going to maintain our reputation in the field of athletics as a national leader, we’ll have to make some choices that are important,” he said. “I think the sacrifices they make to play need to be recognized also.”

Hitchcock said about two-thirds of the written submissions she has received on the review’s proposal to reduce the number of fully funded interuniversity teams to between 10 and 16 supported it. Sixty-eight percent of voters opposed that proposal in a plebiscite question on the AMS referendum last week.

Hitchcock said some submissions raised the issue of accessibility to varsity programs.

“There was also concern expressed about students who, because of financial concerns, don’t have access to sports,” she said.

Hitchcock said she had also received submissions dealing with the review’s proposal to give student-athletes priority in pre-registration. “There was opposition by a few with respect to pre-registration and special course selection for athletes,” she said. “The bulk [of responses to that recommendation] were against that.”

Hitchcock said the town hall resulted in some useful suggestions.

“We had some very good ideas put forward today,” she said. “I found it very helpful.”

Hitchcock said her decision on the review’s recommendations should be made close to the Dec. 31 deadline she initially announced.

“I hope to make it by the end of the year or the beginning of the next,” she said.

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