By Cyrus Gutnick
The gavel fell during the last days of spring quarter last year as the news hit campus that after completing successful seasons, the men’s and women’s water polo programs would be cut in response to across-the-board budget cuts.
As troubling as this was, it was the response to a greater problem afflicting every department in the UC system: less funding and support from Sacramento. Streamlining and conserving is the first step, but eventually one of two things must happen: find additional funding or cut programs and people.
“What if we charged each [athlete] $1,000 [or] $2,000 to participate?” said Ryan Andrews, executive director of recreation and sports. “But then it became an equity issue. We want to keep athletics as diverse as we can, and we don’t want to tell someone you can’t play because you cant afford [to play].”
That decision was turned down and the only other solution was to eliminate two teams. It was a difficult decision that was weighed carefully, and after considering everything — including the practicality of traveling to NCAA regulations that would affect every other Division III team on campus — the men’s and women’s water polo teams were cut.
Unfortunately, the fear of having to charge student athletes is already a reality. Unofficially, it still costs the average student athlete several hundred dollars out of pocket to participate on the team in order to cover items ranging from food on the road to accessories like warm-ups in addition to fundraising just to have a team.
Right now, there is an operating budget that floats in the $850,000 range. Measure 31, which passed in spring 2007, provides $150,000. Registration fees add an additional $228,000. Measure 7 reinstated the $40,000 permanent fees, OPERS gives $85,000 and the chancellor and student affairs match up to $150,000. The rest is made through fundraising and from supportive parents.
Over the past few years, the athletics department has still been running a $45,000 deficit.
And it is not just the athletes who are affected by the budget crisis. Reduced pool hours, reduced gym hours, implemented locker fees and a spike in registration fees for intramural sports are all related.
“Every time I have to raise the cost to play, I see less students turn out to play,” said Kevin “Skippy” Givens, director of intramural and club sports.
“We are outgrowing our facilities and people are starting to step away,” said Linda Spradley, athletics director. “Students are waiting in line for only half of what they want.”
It seems the struggle for OPERS and athletics to stay afloat is a constant one.
“We just don’t have the infrastructure,” Andrews said. “We have the facility to handle a population of 8,000 or 10,000 if we are lucky, and we have 15,000 students. So more and more of our facilities are impacted with athletics events and the student body is going ‘What about us, these are facilities we fund.’”
And before students can expect growth, the long road to recovery has to be tackled in the face of more potential cuts. Andrews made a list of recovery criteria with athletics in mind, but they are issues that many cite as campus-wide issues.
Andrews said that there needs to be guaranteed funding for equitable salaries and that teams need to be funded at a better standard without students paying so much out of pocket.
He also wants to ensure there are enough adequate facilities before starting to create new programs. And lastly, he wants more support from the administration and from the university for these students who want to participate.
With more budget cuts expected and no additional referendums from students in the works, Spradley says that it is going to take a lot of pressure from the student body and it will be hard to gain ground until the students say, “I want it bad enough that I will do something to get it.”