A group of UC Davis student athletes believe that their sports may have been unfairly discontinued and want the cuts reversed.
“It’s not just that we were cut, it’s the way we were cut,” said Tristan Kaiser, senior international relations major and swimmer. “And we don’t believe that we needed to be cut.”
Athletics officials announced April 16 that they will cut women’s rowing, men’s wrestling, men’s indoor track and men’s swimming and diving teams this summer in order to address a necessary $1.79 million budget cut. The Intercollegiate Athletics Senior Management Group estimates $2.9 million in savings over three years.
Athletics Director Greg Warzeck said in a letter to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Fred Wood that the ICA Senior Management Group explored all options, including different budget models from the coaches that kept all 27 sports.
“Despite what some have suggested, the budgets for all our varsity sport programs do not have areas that can be cut,” Warzecka said. “It became obvious very quickly that across-the-board cuts would not achieve fiscal solvency within three years.”
Wood formed a workgroup to review ICA’s budget proposals. The workgroup gave its commentary on the proposals to Wood, who then gave recommendations to Chancellor Linda Katehi.
The workgroup never saw proposals that continued all 27 sports programs, even though some members of the team voiced a strong interest in reviewing those models, said Janet Gong, associate vice chancellor of student affairs and chair of the workgroup, in a letter to Wood.
In addition to Gong, the workgroup included National Collegiate Athletic Association Faculty Athletics Representative Kimberly Elsbach, Athletics Administrative Advisory Commitee Chair Leslie Lyons, Campus Counsel Steve Drown, Assistant Vice Chancellor of University Communications Mitchel Benson, Senior Associate Athletic Director Nona Richardson, Compliance Director Wendi Delmendo and Budget Analyst Christine McUmber.
Elsbach and Lyons were dissatisfied with the lack of collaboration between the workgroup and ICA, Elsbach said. They felt that the workgroup’s report could be misinterpreted.
“We thought that people who would read the report would think the workgroup was very involved in developing the proposals that came out of athletics,” she said. “And when you talk to people who read the report and have read the news releases, most people do think that. But in fact, that was not the case.”
The workgroup was not designed to help develop criteria used to evaluate sports nor to help develop proposals – ICA already did all of that.
“It was this very one-way communication: ICA to workgroup, workgroup to the vice chancellor,” Elsbach said.
Because of this communication set-up, the workgroup did not fact check the criteria that ICA provided.
“The criteria for cutting teams in the matrix was incorrect and definitely formed to have specific teams cut,” said Heidi Kucera, senior nutrition science major and swimmer, in an e-mail interview.
The workgroup released – but did not design – a matrix of the criteria applied to the potentially impacted sports: men’s swimming and diving, men’s track, men’s wrestling, men’s tennis, men’s water polo, women’s swimming and diving, women’s field hockey, women’s lacrosse, women’s gymnastics and women’s rowing.
In the matrix, men and women’s swimming are both said to have no conference affiliation. However, both sports are not only affiliated with the Big West Conference, but they finished first in the 2009-10 season.
Women’s rowing is said to have “limited” competitive opportunities in western states with 14 teams, while gymnastics is said to have sufficient competitive opportunities with nine teams.
Another criterion was “ability to maintain competitiveness with reduced funding.” Only men’s tennis was listed with this ability and ICA did not consult coaches about this piece of criteria, Kaiser said.
“How did they determine that we weren’t competitive or that these other teams weren’t or why men’s tennis was?” Kaiser said.
A seasonal error was also made – the women’s swimming team is listed as a spring sport when it is in fact a winter sport.
“It is this error that shows that this matrix was not proof read or had much time put into it,” Kucera said. “In my opinion, either this matrix was used and is incorrect or there was another criteria that was correct but never released.”
Warzecka did not respond to requests for comment. In a press conference to announce the cut teams, Warzecka admitted that the decision was made in a small amount of time so that athletes whose teams were cut would have time to accommodate the change.
However, Kaiser said the mistakes in the matrix are suspicious.
“It really makes you wonder what the real motivations were behind this,” he said. “If they were honest about everything and there were no ulterior motives, then I think the fact that they were dealing with false information warrants the right to re-look at it and look at other alternatives.”
Athletes are also upset that the cutting of four sports breaches the eight core principles UC Davis adopted when the campus transitioned from Division II to Division I athletics. Principle five states that UC Davis cannot reduce its broad-based program, but rather must seek to add sports.
In a letter, Lyons urged Wood to consider the core principals and suggested that program reductions should be temporary actions.
Athletes want a reversal of the cuts and a one-year transition period, where both teams are given an opportunity to raise money and the administration is given a chance to review possible budgets that maintain all 27 sports, Kaiser said.
“The reason there is so much emotion and outrage right now is because this was done in a very small window of time, the coaches and athletes were blocked out of the process, the decision was made by a small group of people and we have yet to see how that decision was made,” Kaiser said. “And from what we have seen, we can see that it was just rife with errors.”
Community members opposed to the athletic cuts will hold a town hall meeting at the UC Davis Conference Center adjacent to Gallagher Hall on May 19 at 6 p.m. The public forum will include an overview of the allegedly flawed criteria and a presentation of budget models that would continue all 27 sports.
JANELLE BITKER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.