Monday, April 16, 2007

ANews: Student Athletes Demand Answers After Axing of Swimming/Diving Program

Student athletes demand answers after axing of swimming/diving program

Two Ohio University athletes whose sports teams were recently cut entered Cutler Hall Friday afternoon looking for answers directly from OU President Roderick McDavis during a rally to save the eliminated teams.

"We were told by his secretary that he was not in the office," said OU sophomore and former swimmer Matthew Bell, one of the students who tried to contact McDavis during the rally. "Of course, we were wondering why he would be out of his office at 3 p.m. on a Friday."

Bell and a large crowd comprised mostly of student athletes gathered for about 40 minutes in front of Cutler Hall to speak out against the recent decision by OU administrators to cut the men's swimming and diving, men's track and cross-country, and women's lacrosse programs. Other concerned students, parents of cut athletes and some Athens community members also gathered with the athletes.

The crowd provided resounding answers to several angry questions posed by swimmer Branden Burns via a bull horn pointed at Cutler Hall.

"Did we as athletes cause the deficit?" Burns asked the crowd. "Does this university have integrity?"

Those were among the many questions asked by Burns and several other students who got on the bull horn during Friday's rally concerning the alleged character of the administration displayed in carrying out the decision to cut teams.

"This whole thing has been done behind closed doors," charged Bell, who said he has been trying to contact McDavis directly for three months to no avail. "We just want to see a little more transparency from [the administration] and get some straightforward answers to our questions."

Bell said that the student athletes wanted to know why the programs could not be phased out instead of cut abruptly, and whether the administration thought that it had integrity based on this budget decision.

Eliminated athletes were not the only athletes out at the rally Friday. Several members of the women's swimming and diving team gathered to say that the men and women's programs were inseparable and that the women could not win the MAC Championship without the men's program in place.

The protesters even drew in bystanders when a young man on the bull horn called out to a passing group of visitors taking a tour of the campus. "Dear tour group," the protester said. "Do you want to go to a university that does not have integrity?"

In response to the concerns of the students that were expressed at Friday's rally, OU spokesperson George Mauzy explained that the decision was unavoidable and came down to a couple main reasons for cutting the programs. Mauzy said that fiscal challenges in the Athletics Department and compliance with Title IX were the reasons for the cuts.

"The university wants to make sure that each program that it supports can fully support its athletes and give them the full experience," Mauzy said.

Mauzy also said that the university is coming up on a recertification year and that it must be in compliance with Title IX by then.

"Absolutely everyone is devastated that it had to come to this," he said. "But the situation doesn't change because of that; it's a difficult reality."

Mauzy said that it was a difficult decision on the part of the administration.

"We empathize with everyone involved that it had to come down to this," he said.

After the crowd had congregated in front of Cutler Hall for about 40 minutes, Burns got back on the bull horn to break up the rally after it had become clear that they would not be talking to McDavis that day.

"We're still athletes, and we have to go to practice now," Burns said.

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