A few rode or walked their bikes. Others held tennis rackets or slung oars over their shoulders. Many taped their mouths but all in the procession marched in silence.
Almost two weeks after they marched into Hickey Gym, student athletes yesterday protested the possible closure of sports teams resulting from budget cuts to UC Davis Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA) by staging a silent sit-in protest at Mrak Hall.
Director of athletics Greg Warzecka has hinted that a decision would be forthcoming but did not state a specific time for an announcement. He said that four to five sports will be cut.
“We’d like to announce a decision as soon as possible,” Warzecka said. “But we don’t want to rush the process to the point where the process is not complete. We will continue with due diligence and a decision will come shortly.”
By press time yesterday, Warzecka had not announced a decision.
Student athletes and their supporters initially occupied the first floor lobby of Mrak Hall, but decided to present a petition of signatures urging Chancellor Linda Katehi to stop the cutting of sports teams. They then proceeded in groups of five up to the second floor to give the petition to the chancellor, which was accepted by the Office of Student Affairs on her behalf.
Signs taped to the door of a conference room reading, “Where is our voice?” and “Public school, private decisions” reflected the concern of student athletes who believe the process has not been transparent and done without their input.
“We want the administration to let the student athletes in, to voice our opinion,” said Darcy Ward, a senior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major and member of women’s varsity rowing team. “To at least let us become part of the process.”
In the weeks following the initial protest, student athletes and university administrators have split over the interpretation of two student-passed referenda, the Student Activities and Services Initiative (SASI) and the Campus Expansion Initiative (CEI).
Student athletes have argued that closing a range of sports would violate student approval of SASI’s first fee option to support ICA, which mentions a 23 ICA program.
“Students voted to keep 23 sports and a cut of five or more sports falls behind 23,” said Shawdee Rouhafza, a junior communication major and former ASUCD senator.
Rouhafza and other student athletes also believe cuts runs counter to several principles of CEI. Among such principles is the prohibition of “tiering” or unequal treatment between sports and another that states UC Davis “cannot reduce its broad-based program but rather must seek to add sports.”
Rouhafza said closing small sports teams, like swimming or water polo, while allowing sports like football or basketball to remain, would violate both principles.
Infringing on both referendums, she warned, would undermine student faith in the initiative process.
“Regardless of the legal issue with this,” Rouhafza said. “The fact that these referendums were violated sets a precedent for any referendum that has been passed or will be passed at UC Davis. It loses trust in the university as a whole. And we’re going to make that known.”
University officials have also considered both initiatives but view those tenets of SASI and CEI as important guiding philosophies rather than legal constraints to follow.
Janet Gong, senior associate vice chancellor of student affairs, said SASI references but does not specify a 23-sport program and that it allows for a reduction in sports if approved by the Campus Unions and Recreation Board.
Addressing the CEI language of maintaining a “broad-based program,” Gong said the principle addressed UC Davis’ compliance with Prong 2 of Title IX where the university expanded sports for the underrepresented gender.
The impact and severity of university budget cuts was unforeseen by the framers of the referenda, Gong said.
“I have never seen a budgetary climate that we’re in now,” Gong said. “It’s unparalleled, unprecedented and extraordinary.”
Warzecka cited a sharp decline in funds available for the department as the reason for the cuts.
“We’ve lost 2.4 million in the athletic budget, in addition to that we’re running a $1.4 million dollar deficit,” said Warzecka, who also stated that it would be difficult to bring sports back after their closure. “The most difficult part is that there’s only $1.3 million in transition money that we can use over the next three years.
“We’d have to find resources to sustain ourselves into the future past 2013-2014 or we’ll be back to this discussion again.”
But for student athletes and their supporters, any elimination of the sports teams will not be the final word.
“We should fight to defend those 27 sports so all of them have an ability to compete,” said Jack Zwald, president of ASUCD. “I’m protecting the student athletes and making sure we honor our commitments to them in paying for school. Because we said when you come here you can compete on this team and receive the scholarship. I’m going to fight it.”
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at email@example.com.