UC Davis decided to close four intercollegiate sports teams in trying to address an existing $1.4 million budget deficit and an additional $2.4 million fiscal hole for 2009 to 2010.
Athletics officials announced last Friday that they will discontinue women’s rowing, men’s wrestling, men’s indoor track and men’s swimming and diving by July 1. The cuts will affect 73 female student athletes and 80 male student athletes.
For Dustin Luchini, a swimmer who transferred from UC Irvine after its swim team was cut, the closure is painfully familiar.
“I’m just really disappointed the athletic department has done this,” said Luchini, a junior economics major. “When I first heard of us getting cut, I kind of sat there and stared into space. Later on, I just broke down in tears.”
Officials promised the athletes that their scholarships would still be funded and that they would still be eligible to transfer to other universities.
UC Davis will retain 23 sports in its athletic program, with 14 women’s and nine men’s teams.
Although Athletics Director Greg Warzecka said the plan minimized the impact on the number of intercollegiate sports and student athletes, he believed it was still a painful choice.
“Unfortunately it hurts student athletes,” said Warzecka, who e-mailed all student athletes and affected coaches on Friday morning. “It hurts coaches; it hurts this campus. It is a difficult time and an emotional time, and this department’s hurt.”
The Intercollegiate Athletics Senior Management Group projects $2.9 million in savings over three years as a result of the decision. And during the press conference, Warzecka said the department would save up to $5 million over five years.
Warzecka also said discontinuing these four sports was the best way to both stabilize the ICA budget and comply with Title IX, the federal law that requires gender equality in access to college athletics.
Student athletes gathered outside the press conference and chanted “Save our sports!” and “Here we go Aggies, here we go” in protest of the announcement.
The decision’s emotional toll on student athletes is evident.
“It’s going to be very different next year in the athletic department, at Hickey Gym, in the weight room, at practice,” said Shawdee Rouhafza, a junior communications major and member of the women’s tennis team. “A lot of our friends are leaving. It’s horrible.”
“It was a huge emotional hardship for me and for all the sports” Luchini said. “It’s almost on par with losing a family member, it hurts.”
In August of last year, UC Irvine reduced its number of intercollegiate sports to 18 after it discontinued men and women’s swimming and diving, men and women’s rowing, and sailing, citing the challenge of state budget cuts.
Student athletes said they will continue to voice opposition against the decision. Members of the women’s rowing team, for example, have sent e-mails to state representatives urging them to do what they can to save the program.
“We’re talking to people at the capitol,” Rouhafza said. “We’re definitely going to keep fighting it and try to see how we can hopefully if not keep these sports at least make sure administration feels very responsible for their actions.”
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at email@example.com.