By Shawna Leader/The AS Review
When the decision to cut the football team was made almost a year ago, it was the first impact of the budget cuts to affect the university. The university-wide cuts that followed gave the campus a perspective on the decision to cut the team that was not possible when it was made. The approach of the one-year anniversary of this monumental decision provides an opportunity to look back on its impact.
University President Bruce Shepard said in a recent interview that he would not call the decision good, but that it was unavoidable.
“This university had never seen cuts of the magnitude we were going into so we had to do a lot of things that hurt,” he said. “Football was only one … we eliminated entirely our performing arts series, we eliminated entirely our distinguished lecture series.”
The programs that were cut were a valuable part of the college experience, but not a core function, Shepard said. Even some essential functions, such as the amount of classes offered, had to be cut, he said. According to Shepard, between 10 and 15 percent of classes were eliminated. This affects important issues such as time to degree and class availability.
“One of the things that we eliminated was honors chemistry sequence because [of] its small enrollment,” Shepard said. “I worry a lot more about whether that was appropriate to do than I do about football.”
According to Shepard, approximately $500,000 was needed to support the football team. The athletics department was given a choice: keep the football team and find another place to cut a half a million dollars or cut football, he said.
“I just knew that we could not credibly stand up and say we’re cutting all this other stuff [and] we’re going to add a half million dollars to the intercollegiate athletics budget,” Shepard said.
An intercollegiate athletics fee was considered, but turned down because it was not expected to be well-received by students. Considerations of factors including game attendance demonstrated that eliminating the team would not be an issue with most students, Shepard said.
“As I reflect back that turned out to be true,” he said.
To reach the half million dollars required for the football team, recruiting budgets and trainers would have to have been eliminated throughout the athletics program, Shepard said.
“We have intercollegiate athletics that are really competitive, and we just would be driving them all to mediocrity and I just didn’t believe that,” Shepard said.
Another issue that arose when the cut was announced was that of transparency. Concerns that the debate and decision should have been more open arose following the decision.
“I was shocked and surprised the day they made the cut just because there was no path up to the point,” Anthony Zachary, a former Western football player, said. “I wish we would have known earlier, instead of in January. Even if they had told us at the beginning of the season ... maybe our reactions would have been different.”
However, making the decision process open is impossible without potentially damaging the university’s programs, Shepard said. For example, if a prospective student hears a rumor that a program is even being considered for a cut, they will be less inclined to attend if that program is something they are interested in. If word had spread that the existence of the football team was being debated, the program could have been damaged.
During the budgeting process, four programs (two academic majors, a nonacademic position and football) were under consideration for removal. But the identity of those two majors will never be revealed in order to protect their quality, Sheperd said.
Despite the shock and readjustment resulting from the decision, Zachary said he supports the administration’s choice and is glad that the football scholarships are being upheld.
“My biggest concern was ensuring that all football players would retain their scholarships and that we would work hard to place them at other schools if they wished to continue playing collegiate football,” 2008-2009 AS President Erik Lowe said. “It’s been my observation that both have occurred.”
Since the football cut, Zachary has remained at Western for his senior year. Although he was approached by other schools and given offers to play on their football teams, “I was at home at Western,” he said.
Zachary said he is not sure how the football cut will impact future decisions.
“I hope in the future, if they do decide to cut another sports team, that they are more transparent in the process and make the situation an issue known to all players, coaches, alumni and other people in the faculty,” he said. “Perhaps the administration could get input from those people.”
Shepard said that he welcomes any input on the budgeting process. Students can send their comments to Executive Director of University Planning and Budgeting Paula Gilman at paula.gilman.wwu.edu.