Thursday, March 15, 2007

Amazing Letter to the Editor in the Athens News

Megan Sanders, who is one of the leaders for reinstating the four cut athletic teams, wrote a wonderful letter to the editor in the Athens News. Here it is:

Reader's Forum: OU's decision to cut four sports runs counter to NCAA priorities

By Megan L. Sanders

Thursday, March 15th, 2007

Dear Ohio University athletics director Kirby Hocutt: I am writing in response to the March 5 podcast delivered by NCAA President Myles Brand, in case you missed it. He addressed the ever-popular, "disturbing and very unfortunate" (Dr. Brand's words) trend of dropping collegiate varsity sports.

Although Brand admitted that schools do face financial problems, he stated that in some cases the overall athletics department's budget is not being cut, but rather spent differently. In other words, he states, "Some teams are being cut and others are being better supported."

This closely parallels OU's recent decision to cut four varsity sports, as you repeatedly mentioned "strategically reinvesting" the department's money at the Feb. 15 Board of Trustees meeting.

Specifically, in response to Student Trustee Lydia Gerthoffer's question of how cutting these sports would help the financial situation of your department, you responded, "There are financial savings and investments in cutting these other sports. The university has decided to strategically invest in other sports."

To me, and I am assured I am not alone, this sounds like a different reason altogether for the cuts: no mention of Title IX or paying down the $4 million deficit here.

If, in fact, this "strategic reinvestment" is the true reason behind the cuts, I agree with Brand's encouragement to be ethical about it: "If you want to redistribute the money, I think you have to think about if you are doing the right thing." Do you, Mr. Hocutt, think you are doing the right thing? If so, why won't you be honest about it?

But let's face one of the reasons you did give us: Title IX. Brand states that "these are not Title IX decisions. Justifying it by blaming Title IX really does a disservice to the many young women participating in sports." Prior to this podcast, he has stated (as many supporters of OU's four dropped varsity sports know), "I certainly hope no university cuts sports to comply with Title IX. There are always alternatives. The NCAA is always ready and able to work with an athletics department to identify acceptable alternatives to cutting sports" (emphasis mine).

At the Feb. 15 OU Board of Trustees meeting, you admitted that in fact, no, neither you nor any of your staff had sought the assistance of the NCAA when making the decision to cut these sports.

I find it ironic that Title IX is about creating equal opportunities for both men and women and now OU is using it as a scapegoat for eliminating sports. In fact, as you well know, women's lacrosse was added (for the second time) in 1999 as a result of Title IX. So, the sport was added and just as quickly eliminated as a quick-fix way to adhere to this law? Doesn't seem to add up.

In regard to the value of athletics to the student athlete, Brand states, "If intercollegiate athletics is really valuable as an experience for those who participate, you don't want to cut teams. If anything, you want to see if you can build up new teams."

Again, Mr. Hocutt, you and Brand seem to be at odds. The day you publicly announced the cuts, you declared, "It's obvious that because of our financial position, we are not providing our student athletes with the high-quality experience that is expected at Ohio University."

I beg to differ. If you had taken the time to ask any of the student athletes of the four cut teams how they valued their experience as an Ohio student athlete, I think they would tell you everything they loved about their experience, what they have gained from it, and how deeply they would regret having their team cut without a single mention of the lack of "high-quality experience" being provided to them.

So, I'm confused. And I think that was your goal.

If these cuts were about paying down this enormous and (until January) secretive deficit, please disclose the detailed plan of how the generously projected and potential savings of $685,000 (and that is only if each affected student athlete chooses NOT to stay at the school, therefore saving you that athlete's scholarship money) will go toward paying down the debt.

If these cuts were about Title IX, please disclose where in the written law it states that cutting participation opportunities for women and men is true to the law's intentions.

Finally, if this is, as you say, about "strategically reinvesting" the department's budget, please disclose the budget plans (which as of Jan. 25 were still unknown) for how the savings from these cut programs will be spent in alternative ways within the department.

I think that is the least you owe the student body, the current student athletes, their families, the alumni student athletes and supporters of the university - the truth.

Here is my truth: I am no longer proud to say I graduated from Ohio University and am ashamed I have supported and recommended a school that has treated its most important assets, the students, with such disrespect. Signed, Megan L. Sanders

Editor's note: Megan Sanders was a captain of the Ohio University women's lacrosse team, 1999-2002.

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