A Personal Perspective Behind the Athletic Cuts

To my fellow UVMers, Athletic supporters, and readers, I offer to you an insight into what took place during these past weeks in the realm of athletics at the University of Vermont.

As you may or may not be aware, the Athletic Department, headed by Dr. Robert Corran, decided on Wednesday March 24th, that four existing varsity teams would be eliminated and that men’s indoor and outdoor track will be reinstated for the seasons to come.

The teams that were eliminated were men’s and women’s tennis, men’s golf, and men’s swimming. Some people believe that colleges and universities are dropping programs in order to comply with Title IX. Undoubtedly, some are.

This is an unfortunate and unintended consequence of important legislation intended to enhance opportunities for women in college. This, however, is not an issue of men’s vs. women’s tennis programs.

While men’s varsity tennis programs have been dropped at a ratio of two to one to women’s programs, the fact remains that both men and women’s programs are being abandoned.

With colleges and universities facing mounting financial pressures, so called “non revenue generating” programs, such as tennis, are often being sacrificed at the expense of the “revenue generating sports” such as football and basketball.

This is somewhat troubling; however it is far less significant than the change introduced by the Athletic Department. In the entire history of UVM a team with a winning record has never been cut for the following upcoming season. The preceding sentence refers to only one of aforementioned teams-men’s tennis.

Over the past 23 years the UVM men’s tennis team has suffered only FOUR losing seasons. Put that into perspective, no other team at UVM is even close to that. What is even more disturbing than cutting a team with a winning record, is to cut a team that requires no new facilities, little cost, and is highly competitive.

The other teams that were cut also had already concluded their respective seasons, whereas men’s and women’s tennis are still in the midst of their seasons. As a member of the men’s team I had the “privilege” to sit down with Doctor Corran to discus the impending termination of the men’s tennis program at the University of Vermont.

To say that he offered us little explanation would be a drastic understatement. He told us how proud he was of our program and the success we have had.

You see though the problem with his statements was the fact that they were a complete lie. He did not even show enough care and concern to come to our program’s last home match against conference favorite Stony Brook.

I was glad to see men’s basketball coach Tom Brennan there, proving what exemplary he is. Dr. Corran attempted to explain to us why we had been guillotined.

He stated that the Athletic Department used a set of criterion for all teams and then “cut loose” the programs least likely to achieve success.

He offered us things that were used as criteria. These things included (but were not limited to facilities, cost, winning percentage, community outreach, and fan support.

I would like to further address these issues.

First, the six indoor tennis courts we have at UVM are the best of any college in New England, save Dartmouth. Teams consistently, and I assume will continue to; use our facility for their winter matches. How embarrassing is it going to be next year when teams from around New England continue to use our courts without us?

Secondly, Dr. Corran spoke about cost; the cost to run our program is less than $40,000, or a little more than one person’s out-of-state tuition. There are ten guys on the men’s basketball team and who knows how many on the men’s hockey team that receive that much EACH year individually. These teams deserve their due and respect regardless of record because they draw fans and revenue.

The most troubling aspect here is that in an interview last week on CBS, NCAA President Miles Brand said the following, “We sponsor 360,000 student-athletes at 120,000 institutions and only a dozen or so schools are lucky enough to even break even.”

The point here is that athletic departments are not seen as moneymakers but instead as windows into the university. They are advertisements for the school, as our hockey team’s hazing incident thrust us into the negative media spotlight; our school’s recent basketball success has propelled us into people’s minds.

Obviously though men’s tennis created a negative image for the school, with all our winning seasons and whatnot.

Pertaining to community outreach, our team has in the past shoveled snow off driveways for the elderly and personally, I, was one of three volunteers (in the entire athletic department) to read to elementary students during this past semester.

Dr. Corran continued to share insight on more of the “deletion” process by stating teams winning percentage was a factor used. This was my personal favorite, seeing as only three men’s teams (men’s basketball, men’s baseball, and men’s tennis) had winning records. I omitted skiing here because it has a team identity, not male/female restricted.

Don’t worry though Dr. Corran wasn’t finished yet, he spoke with us about a team’s ability to compete and I quote from the press release where he states, “Maintaining programs that are not funded at a Division I level and don’t have a reasonable chance to succeed is not in the best interest of our student-athletes.”

Clearly, we do not have a “reasonable chance” to succeed even though on a weekly basis we beat teams that are scholarship programs, isn’t beating teams that are more adequately funded than us considered “reasonably successful?”

Now this is not all Dr. Corran’s fault, it is actually the fault our capitalist system here in the United States. The real reason these cuts took place was of course because of the greenback.

Men’s tennis is an easy sport to cut as colleges around the country continue to do so. The numbers are disturbing. According to research of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (“ITA”) during the 50-year period from 1930 until 1980, only five varsity college tennis programs in the U.S. were cut.

In the succeeding decade (from 1981 to 1991), the elimination rate increased more than five-fold, with 37 known programs being dropped.

In the last decade, the program cuts have increased more than four times, with a staggering 151 tennis programs being dropped between 1992 and 2002. In 2003, 25 varsity tennis programs have already been dropped, and there are more to come in 2004.

In addition to these fatalities, over the past two decades, 78 other programs were eliminated, with precise years unknown. Since 1981, a staggering 291 varsity tennis college programs have been dropped. And the reason you see men’s track being reinstated despite the fact of innumerable losing seasons is the fact that the UVM Business, scratch that, Athletic Department received a large donation earmarked for the future of track.

Now that is truly a commitment to winning and achieving more success, isn’t it? What Dr. Corran and the Athletic Department have done really makes me want to attend the athletic events I already pay for because of the athletic fee included in my and everyone else’s tuition.

This simple $75 fee added 1.2 million dollars to the athletic department. Where did all that money go? To support more winning teams? Must not have, because men’s tennis did not see any of it.

If EVERY student paid ONE more dollar per semester in their tuition, it would give us more money than is needed to run our currently “unsuccessful” program.

Dr. Bob does have us on the fan support criteria factor though. I admit it is troubling that on a Thursday night at 9 pm 200 kids will come out to play tennis, but only ten or fewer bother to come to our matches.

To Dr. Corran and the rest of the Athletic Department I hope you read this, and that it makes you feel sick inside.

You (Dr. Bobby) never made it to ONE of our matches, showing how you “cared so much” and “how proud of you guys” you really are.

I know you probably won’t read this article, but my team and my friends will know that you not only forever changed the lives of 45 student-athletes, but that you took away the purest thing most of us will ever experience, the thrill of attainment and victory.

Hopefully we can buy our program back sometime soon just like track did…