Ohio track may still be alive. Here's an update from the Athens News:
Ohio University officials will meet with Student Senate in a special session this evening to respond to a resolution Senate passed last week that condemned the university's decision to cut four varsity sports.
Kirby Hocutt, athletics director, and Bill Decatur, vice president for finance and administration, will answer questions in what is billed as a joint meeting between Student Senate and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
The "question-and-answer session" will run from 6-7 p.m. in the Walter Hall governance room. According to the meeting notice, Hocutt will present financial information, research and other important information considered before four varsity sports were cut. The meeting is open to the public.
In its first meeting since OU's elimination of four varsity sports, Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday condemning the decision. At the center of the criticism was the idea that OU made the move with insufficient input and communication, and failed to consider alternatives to cutting women's lacrosse, men's indoor track and field, men's outdoor track and field, and men's swimming and diving.
Matthew Bell, senator at-large and member of the men's swimming and diving team, said Wednesday that OU administrators wrongfully withheld information from the eliminated teams.
"(We) have been lied to," Bell declared. "The student-athletes of these teams have been betrayed by the university,"
The resolution, which explicitly cites the lack of student input in the decision to cut funding for the sports, asks the athletics department to provide some type of justification.
University officials have said they had to drop some teams in order to cut into an athletics deficit that will reach $4 million by the end of June. If the department proceeded without substantial changes, athletics director Hocutt said, the deficit could have reached $7 million by 2010.
Hocutt also cited a need to comply with federal gender-equity (Title IX) requirements as part of the reason for eliminating three men's sports and one women's sport.
Not including seniors, 87 student-athletes and eight coaches are directly affected by the decision. Student-athletes who plan to remain at the university will receive aid at their current scholarship level for the remainder of their eligibility, Hocutt stated last week.
During last Wednesday's meeting, many senators criticized the athletics department for being secretive and unprofessional in its handling of the situation, specifically its lack of cooperation at the Jan. 26 "town hall" meeting where OU President Roderick McDavis and Hocutt were inundated with concerns about the decision to cut the four teams.
Some affected athletes and members of their families have said they were given assurances about OU's commitment to the teams, and that university officials should have disclosed the decision during recent team events.
In a January 12, 2006 letter to Bobcat swimmer Luke Herlehy, a junior from Batavia, Ill., Hocutt mentioned that budget cuts had forced scholarship moratoriums in swimming and other sports, but then pledged to support Herlehy's team and stated the athletics department's goal to restore the scholarships.
"While in the short term (the moratorium) may sound alarming," wrote Hocutt, "I want to assure you that the athletics department is behind the men's swimming and diving program and will support you with all available resources … It is our department's goal to ultimately return men's swimming and diving to its 2004-2005 scholarship totals."
A February 2004 article in OU's Outlook publication that was written by a Division of University Advancement assistant reported a swimming and diving endowment created by the captain of OU's first varsity swim team and a former OU diving coach. The endowment, said the article, would "continue to support generations of swimmers and divers for years to come."
THE STUDENT SENATE RESOLUTION protesting the cuts requests that the athletics department justify its budget, consider alternatives to cutting the teams, and provide meeting minutes regarding the decision.
The secretive manner of the administration, Bell said at the Wednesday meeting, is immoral. "These teams were left completely in the dark by the university," he said. "There is a major ethical issue involved in not informing a team's members of their financial situation."
Chris Diehl, commissioner for Residence Life, said the administration's neglect to include students in the decision-making process is troubling. "Everyone had an opportunity to give input but those directly affected," he said.
Bell said that with these funding cuts, many student-athletes came to OU on the basis of false pretenses. Fully expecting his team to remain intact during his four years of eligibility, Bell said the university has betrayed the trust of both current and future student-athletes.
"Ohio University continued to recruit student-athletes to these programs," Bell maintained, "despite the fact that someone within the athletic department must have known that there was eventually going to be a need for cuts."
Also on Wednesday, Bob Redd, Student Senate's commissioner for state and federal affairs, said that the athletics department failed to consider alternatives to cutting the sports teams. "There were a lot of other options," he said, "but none of us will know what they were."
Michaela Hahn-Lawson, president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, agreed with Redd and said that by not giving student- athletes a voice, the administration was disrespecting them. "This was the biggest slap in the face," she said. "There were no other options explored, in the students' eyes."
Bell added that if student-athletes had been aware of the financial problems, teams could have been proactive in raising money. "At no point were any of the teams instructed to perform any kind of fundraising activity," Bell said. "The teams were never given a chance… to keep their programs in existence."
Numerous students in attendance, including Allen Brindle, of Students Defending Students, also spoke out against elimination of the teams.
Brindle said the administration has an obligation to consult students before decisions of this magnitude are made. Because of that lack of representation, Brindle asked Student Senate to pass a vote of "no confidence" against President Roderick McDavis. This request was not discussed by senators.
One of OU's two faculty representatives to the athletics department said Friday that the decision had been a wrenching one both for university officials and the team members whose sports were eliminated. Part of the delay in delivering the news, said Jennifer Chabot, a human and consumer sciences associate professor, was attributable to the need to make a single announcement so all stakeholders would find out at the same time.
"I was in on the executive board meetings as they prepared for the news release," said Chabot. "I was privy to the agonizing decision that this was."
Chabot noted that academic departments have also been affected or even eliminated by the national trend of higher education budget squeezes, and that she was unaware of any official pledges to keep the teams. Making adjustments within OU's athletic offerings, assessed Chabot, is a legitimate way to comply with federal mandates and maintain the university's status as a Division I-A school in the Mid-American Conference.
"It's roster management; it's budget management; it's facilities management," she said. "I don't think anyone at this university is interested in going down to a Division II school. I'm amazed at everything you have to take into consideration. Yes, we did sit on (the decision to cut four teams) for a week, but you have to have a complete plan in place."
The other faculty representative, journalism professor Patrick Washburn, declined comment on Saturday about the cuts.
In addition to passing the resolution of condemnation, Student Senate took the preliminary step of forming an athletic affairs committee, with the goals of bringing together the entire athletic community, preventing similar situations in the future, and attempting to reinstate the eliminated athletic teams.