Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sports Rally at Cutler Hall, OU President's Office

Students seek answers at rally

Staff Writer

They came to Cutler Hall on the Ohio University campus Friday to get answers about why their sports programs at the university were cut.

But they did not get any answers.

A group of more than 100 students, athletes, family members and others interested in the issue gathered in front of Cutler Hall Friday in a rally hoping to get more answers and information about why Ohio administrators decided to cut men's indoor and outdoor track and field, men's swimming and diving and women's lacrosse. Those varsity sports will not longer be offered at the university. However, the person they came to see, OU President Roderick McDavis, was not in his office at that time to answer that question.

The university announced at the end of January that those sports would be cut, effective at the end of the 2007 season. The cuts take the number of university-sponsored sports down from 20 to 16, which is the minimum number of sports programs required to keep Division 1A standing with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Men's track counts as two programs because it is indoor and outdoor.

OU Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt has said the cuts were based on maintaining Title IX standards of the Educational Amendments of 1972 and stopping OU athletics from operating under a deficit. The cuts, he said, would also improve the overall quality of sports at the university, because more would be invested in those sports that remain.

Student athletes in February asked the OU Board of Trustees to override the decision, but they chose not to, citing their focus as a policy-making board, not an administrative one.

The students gathered in front of Cutler Hall brought signs bearing statements of "OU does not uphold their core values" and "Don't drown men's swimming." In between chants and shouts, several students stated they have tried to get more information from the administration through more conventional means, and were brushed off.

Student Senate member Matthew Bell, one of the students present at the rally, said he has tried many times to meet with McDavis to discuss the reasons behind the decision. He said ultimately this rally resulted from that.

"I tried to do this professionally, but that is not going to work," he said.

OU men's swim team freshman Branden Burns said he is most troubled by the financial explanation given for the cuts. He said the university's deficit was not caused by these sports that were cut, since many of them have small budgets to begin with.

"It was not sports but the administration that brought the deficit," he said. "I don't understand why we have to be held accountable for their mistakes. They should clean up their department first, before they clean us out of our sports."

Brad Stetson of Barrington, Ill., the father of men's swimming and diving junior Drew Stetson, also expressed his discontent with the decision made. Stetson said he met with McDavis and Hocutt after the decision to cut the sports was announced, but also has not received a satisfactory answer involving the decision. He said the players on that team have endured a couple of years of cut funding for scholarships for the program, but have excelled in the sport nonetheless.

Further, Stetson said his eldest son, Brett, graduated from OU and also took part in the swimming program, and his daughter Liz, currently a senior in high school, has decided not to attend OU because of the decision. Stetson said historically, most swimmers train with both men and women, which helps the program as a whole, and cutting one side of that team affects the whole program.

Women's swim team captain Emily Wylam agreed. Wylam, a junior at OU, said there are currently few women on the swim team who focus on the backstroke -- which is her stroke -- so she usually trains with the men. She said this decision will impact her and the whole team, who view each other as family.

"They make me successful," she said. "This impacts how I train. They push me so much in practice."

Although Wylam has thought about relocating to another institution following this decision, she said she finds the thought of leaving the team unpleasant. However, it is hard for her to see members of the men's team leaving, she said.

"They are literally like a family," she said.

OU junior Ilse Petersen of South Africa agreed, noting that she came to OU because of the swim program. She said that cutting these sports out also cuts down on the diversity they bring to campus.

And though Petersen has also considered switching to another college, she has decided to finish her education at OU. Others, however, have made a different choice, she said.

"We are losing a lot of guys, a lot of girls," she said. "A lot of them are giving up because this is not what they signed up for."

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