Cut sports teams granted one-year reprieve by Ladner
AU President Benjamin Ladner announced that the elimination of three AU athletic programs, Men's and Women's Tennis and Golf, will be delayed until after the 2005-2006 school year, in a release dated March 4, the final day of classes before AU's spring break.
"We recognize that the timing of the initial announcement caught our student-athletes, their families and fans off guard," Ladner said in the statement. "This new timetable will provide sufficient time for our student-athletes to compete for another season while planning for their future."
After the programs were initially eliminated on Feb. 24, many athletes protested not only the cuts, but the timing, saying the announcement gave athletes insufficient time to meet transfer deadlines, set by many schools in early March.
Around 300 students, faculty, alumni and parents affirmed that sentiment at a town hall meeting sponsored by the Student Confederation. Many say it was that outcry that led to the department's decision to delay the changes.
The delay should allow freshman and sophomore athletes more time to find a spot not only at another school, but on another school's tennis or golf team.
"I don't want to say I was relieved to have an extra year," said AU Women's Tennis sophomore Julia Colarusso, who's been among the most vocal athletes after the cut. "I would like to see it overturned completely. But it made my decision easier. I want to stay at AU, finish my degree. Having a junior year and possibly a senior year helps."
While Colarusso says athletes and others will focus efforts on fund raising to try to permanently save the teams, the final fate of the programs is unchanged for now. AU Athletic Director Joni Comstock did not directly say there was no chance for the teams to be saved through private funding, but suggested that a mass movement aimed at reinstating the programs full time could end in frustration.
"It is my belief that the programs will not be continued past 2006," Comstock said. "I respect (the athletes') passion, and we will not in any way curtail their right to talk or to do anything that they would want. But I don't want to see them experience even more disappointment."
Still, both tennis coaches have submitted inquiries to administrators to find out how much private funding would be needed to endow the programs, Colarusso said.
"They haven't gotten the figures yet," Colarusso said. "It's definitely a substantial, substantial amount of money, more than what takes to run the program for a year. Endowing the programs means keeping them indefinitely so they're never threatened again. It will take an obscene amount of money.
"No one's going to lie. It's a very difficult undertaking. We're not trying to be unrealistic. But tennis is a very big part of our lives, no one's willing to just walk away from it."
The Washington Post estimated that the three programs combined cost $518,500 annually. The money saved yearly from the cuts would be substantially less, as AU intends to keep the five scholarships from those sports until athletes using them transfer or graduate. Then they will be apportioned to other sports.
With the delay, Comstock said she is expecting help from the University to keep AU athletics operations at the same level they are at now for the coming year. She also elaborated on additional downsizing by the department in February aside from the tennis and golf programs.
"We have been working extremely hard to find more support," Comstock said, "rather than having to eliminate or cut back programs. It has become clear in last number of weeks of weeks that even our increased fund raising would not offset that amount of money, particularly as you consider escalating costs we incur with each passing year."
Comstock confirmed that four intern coach/graduate assistant positions, which paid part-time money but included full-time benefits, were eliminated for the 2005-2006 school year. The Women's Lacrosse, Soccer and Volleyball teams and the Swimming team each had one such position eliminated. The soccer and volleyball coaches were already leaving the teams before their positions were eliminated, but their vacancies will go unfilled.
In addition, she acknowledged that some AU programs lost scholarships in the cuts for reasons stemming back more than a year.
In November 2003, the department announced 20 scholarship cuts - including all 15 from swimming - but did not eliminate individual scholarships until athletes either graduated or transferred. Thus the announced number of 80 scholarships at AU is a bit lower than the actual number, Comstock said.
The newer scholarship cuts, which The Eagle has learned includes at least one from Women's Soccer and two from Women's Lacrosse, are meant to bring the real number closer to 80 until the other scholarships are gone, Comstock said.
Once the number of scholarships is down to 80, the scholarships will be reapportioned, Comstock said, though she didn't suggest how. The Men's and Women's Basketball teams and the Men's Soccer team are already funded with the maximum number of scholarships for their sports per NCAA regulations, so they will not gain any more scholarship money.
While the extent of the Athletics Department's downsizing is becoming clear, the logic behind it is still opaque, said SC President Polson Kanneth. He did not rule out further action from the SC to try and save the tennis and golf programs permanently, but said that those involved must first learn more about the rationale behind the cuts.
"It depends on the facts," Kanneth said. "The student body needs to hear exactly what the reasons are, and we will react from there."
The SC will likely hold another town hall meeting similar to the one on March 2. But unlike the first, which was arranged in less than a week, the second should be more organized and focused, Kanneth said.
"This time we want Dr. Comstock, and (AU Vice President of Development) Al Checcio to come," Kanneth said. "I know they're willing to talk to us."
"We'll hold it and advertise it even better than we did the first time," he insisted. "We have enough time to bring all the players into this"