Dec. 4, 2003
KALAMAZOO--A two-month review of intercollegiate athletics at Western Michigan University has led to a recommendation that the WMU Board of Trustees should approve elimination of four varsity sports at the close of the 2003-04 fiscal year.
WMU President Judith I. Bailey will bring the formal recommendation to the board when it meets Dec. 12. The sports include one of the University's oldest athletic offerings, men's outdoor track, as well as men's indoor track, men's cross country and a relatively new addition to the lineup, synchronized skating. The four sports represent a total of 100 student-athletes and three coaches. Eliminating the four sports will result in an annual savings of more than $535,000, beginning with the 2004-05 fiscal year.
Annual scholarship commitments to athletes in the affected sports will be honored for the duration of each athlete's academic career at WMU. The scholarship funding, which this year amounts to $165,000, will come from the president's unrestricted fund beginning in 2004-05.
"This was an incredibly painful decision," said Bailey at a Dec. 4 news conference to announce the recommendation. "We know that eliminating any sport diminishes our ability to offer a well-rounded college experience. But we must protect our core academic mission, and doing that in this budget climate means making difficult decisions and reassessing how we use our resources."
A Sports Sponsorship Review Committee was created by Bailey Sept. 24 and charged with a review of current athletics programming. Specifically, the committee was asked to evaluate current programming needs to ensure the division is prudent and fiscally responsive to the current economic environment facing the University and community. The review was launched after WMU suffered a $12.5 million cut in its state appropriation at the beginning of the 2003-04 academic year. An impending executive order cut by Gov. Granholm was announced just as the committee was concluding its work. That new cut could mean an additional reduction in funds of more than $6 million for the University, with the possibility of even more base budget cuts in 2004-05.
Bailey instructed the committee that their recommendations should be made with strong consideration given to support of student-athletes' academic performance and the continuance of a safe and competitive athletic environment. Parameters included keeping WMU a Division 1-A member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, maintaining its Title IX compliance and remaining an active member of both the Mid-American Conference and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
The committee, led by Dr. Lewis Walker, WMU professor emeritus of sociology, and Charles Elliott of Kalamazoo, met its Dec. 1 deadline and recommended elimination of the men's track and cross country programs to Kathy Beauregard, director of the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. Facing deeper budget cuts than were known at the time the committee was formed, Beauregard added an additional recommendation to eliminate synchronized skating before she made her formal presentation to Bailey.
"Every alternative was considered," said Beauregard. "But with the cuts the division has already sustained and those coming in the future, I had to agree with the committee's recommendation and even take it a step further. I literally ache for each individual who is losing his or her opportunity to pursue a dream. These are members of our campus family, and I know they exemplify the very best of what collegiate athletics is all about."
The review committee consisted of WMU faculty, staff members and alumni as well as community members. It made its recommendation to cut the men's track programs "with the deepest regret," said Walker.
During the course of its review, committee members met a total of 13 times, consulted with members of the athletic department staff, reviewed written statements of support from the community and interviewed coaches of all sports that are not required for MAC membership. They also held two public forums to get input from student-athletes, students and community supporters.
"As a committee, we had hoped to discover alternatives to team elimination," Walker said. "Unfortunately, the economic challenge did not allow for any other viable options. It was a most difficult decision for each member of the committee and we deeply regret that the decision had to be made."
Bailey thanked members of the committee for the difficult decisions they made. She said both she and WMU trustees, who already know of the recommendations, appreciate the care and dedication committee members brought to the task.
"We've made the decision to protect academic programs and student aid during these tough budget times, because students are our top priority," Bailey said. "But staying the course through this decision means some students will be hurt and will lose something vital to them. As an educator and someone who cares deeply about young people, my heart goes out to each of them and to the coaches who have served them so selflessly."
The men's indoor and outdoor track and cross country programs officially count as three varsity programs, although they share a common coaching staff and several athletes participate on multiple teams. The programs' 88-year history has produced 32 MAC team championships and two NCAA cross country team championships. For the 2003-04 year, $370,722 has been budgeted for the three track teams.
Synchronized skating was launched at WMU in 1998, and in 1999, it became one of only two varsity collegiate teams in the nation. All athletes are walk-ons and no athletic scholarships are in place for the sport. For 2003-04, the budget for the sport is $164,350.