Laurier Golden Hawks cut varsity volleyball

By Erin Shumlich

There will be no more setting, bumping or spiking for the Golden Hawks. After an extensive review of the athletics and recreation program at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. the board decided to discontinue its men’s and women’s varsity volleyball programs due to lack of funding and in order to meet a rising demand for recreational and intramural sports. The cut will free up $112,000 annually, part of which will go to keeping other varsity sports competitive.

With cutbacks occurring all too rapidly, the University of Calgary has avoided any major program cuts like this one.

“This is a decision that no athletic director wants to make, to eliminate an athletic department,” said Wilfred Laurier’s director of athletics and recreation Peter Baxter. “But it is going to come into play a lot more and part of it is because resources are so scarce. McGill recently cut their volleyball program and this is happening with academic programs as well.”

Baxter said that the decision had a lot to do with recession cutbacks and booming enrolment rates.

The decision initially caused outrage from the student population, with a Facebook page of over 2,700 students rallying to bring it back. Baxter said after the immediate reaction, individuals have come to respect the intricacy of the decision.

“Obviously the ones affected are devastated,” said Baxter. “Taking something that they love away is a difficult decision, but we have been supportive of them from day one and will continue to do so.”

Overall, 30 student athletes will be affected, but scholarships will continue into the fall to help athletes continue pursuing their education at Wilfred Laurier or provide support for those athletes wishing to play volleyball elsewhere or transition to other sports.

The decision came after all varsity sports were judged based on 16 criteria, including strategic planning, leadership and coaching, facilities and equipment, and recruitment.

Laurier volleyball teams have struggled to be competitive and required doubling of funding in order to compete with top Canadian universities. The board decided that without the finance at a level that they are able to compete, they must discontinue the program in order to strengthen other areas of need. The top teams in the CIS have about $250,000 while the Laurier volleyball teams budgeted under $65,000 each.

Intramural teams in the last 10 years have increased more than 155 per cent, and in 2009-10 there were approximately 830 participants on the wait list.

“These decisions are never taken lightly,” said U of C sports information director Ben Matchett. “Lots of thought and consultation goes into these — they are never easy. From the sport’s perspective, volleyball is actually biggest in Western Canada. Most of the national champions over the last 15 years have been won by western teams. In Ontario, it’s not as big of a sport as it is in Western Canada. So losing Laurier is obviously a blow but it’s not as significant in the big picture — not to the level as a cut to a successful Western Canadian team.”

Cutting programs like volleyball happens enough that it is worrisome. Five years ago the University of New Brunswick cut its women’s hockey program. A quick decision over $60,000 caused a national outcry earlier this year when St. Mary’s cut women’s hockey within a couple of weeks of the season ending — eventually the university reversed its decision.

In 2009, the U of C cut funding to field hockey and men’s soccer. Although these teams still represent the Dinos, they now have to provide their own funding. At the same time the university added women’s varsity rugby.

Matchett said these teams are mostly funded by alumni groups.

“Obviously, moving forward we want to be at the point where we can fully fund all the teams — that’s the dream. The reality was trying to do too much with too little and a finite amount of resources spread out too thinly was not good for anyone. It brings everyone down.”

The U of C athletics department is limited by the CIS regarding the amount of money the university is allowed to give student athletes. The majority of this budget comes from an athletic fee that all students pay each semester. Added to that is sponsorship, ticket sales, merchandise sales at the bookstore and major fundraising.

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