BOT continues potential athletic program elimination discussion at retreat

Cassie Buchman, Staff Reporter

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Ongoing discussions regarding the elimination of athletic programs led to the topic being brought before the Board of Trustees at its annual retreat Saturday.

At last year’s board retreat, trustees reaffirmed their interest in remaining a division one athletic university.

To continue being a division 1 school, Eastern needs to have 14 sports. There are currently 21 athletic programs at the university while the average university competing in the Ohio Valley Conference has 17.

Athletic director Tom Michael said with budget issues that are in place, the department has been dealing with a lot of different things and figuring out to be be efficient.

He said he has not had specific discussions with coaches, but everyone is aware that the discussions are taking place.

“In the conversations, (Eastern President David) Glassman and I have obviously looked at specific sports in regards to where we need to go,” Michael said.

These are difficult conversations to have, he said, as many people are affected, such as student athletes, staff and alumni.

“With enrollment going down and the fact that we’re trying to remain competitive in places, too, it’s made it very difficult,” he said.

Glassman said the university knows enrollment for fall 2017 is going to be lower, but he hopes that it could increase in 2018.

There is a wide range of factors when looking at exactly what sports to cut, Michael said.

“It’s not just a financial component, it is history, it’s conference affiliation,” he said. “We’re not just doing this whimsically…it’s been a very intense process.”

Another factor Glassman pointed out is being mindful of Title IX regulations, which dictate that the university has a parity between men’s and women’s sports teams.

Eastern has satisfied the Title IX requirement by having all women’s sports with a demand on campus, Glassman said, and when looking at decreasing the number of sports at the university, most of the discussion has been around reducing men’s and not women’s athletic programs.

While Michael would like to get a decision made in either direction soon, he said he does not know when this will happen.

Michael compared the discussions to a “lever system.”

“You try to get some levers balanced out and all of a sudden a couple of them go awry, then you get those balanced out,” he said. “It’s not an easy process to go through, particularly where we are financially,where the state budget has us handcuffed in some ways.”

During the meeting, Michael said the dropping enrollment has made it difficult to maintain the 21 sports and over 450 student-athletes in the department.

Some sports are not being funded at a level they can be competitive in, he said.

“At the end of the day, when we want them to be our best recruiters, (athletes) are not having an experience where they’re going to talk positively about their experience at EIU,” Michael said.

Glassman said a program review of athletics has been done as part of the vitalization project. Workgroup no.4, which analyzed intercollegiate athletics during the project, suggested the administration look at eliminating some sports but did not specify which ones.

The money used to pay for athletic scholarships comes out of different students fees and incomes.

Because of lower enrollment, the athletic department does not get enough fees from students, meaning the department has to use money for from their own operating budget to use for these scholarships.

The budget for intercollegiate athletics has decreased over the last three years, with Glassman making a 20 percent cut during the first year of the budget impasse.

“If we eliminate a sport- and we may be, I’m not saying we’re not going to, and we may (eliminate) multiple- if enrollment goes up, we’re not bringing those sports back,” Glassman said.

In the case a sport is eliminated, this would mean the athletic department would not have to handle the expenses of paying the coaches, the equipment, or scholarship.

A sheet was given out with a 2016 budgetary analysis of five programs, labeled Sport A, B, C,D and E, with the amount the athletic department would save and the university would lose each sport were eliminated.

For instance, if Sport E were eliminated, the athletic department would save about $206,000.

These programs remained anonymous, though Glassman did say these five did not include men’s basketball or football.

Glasman said if the board decides to keep programs because the university is making more money than the athletic department is losing on them, in the future athletics will have a deficit.

However, this deficit might not be as big as the profit the university makes, he added.

Through taking measures such as cutting staff, Glassman said athletics was able to get a balanced budget last year.

Now, there is no more personnel to cut and there needs to be donations of about $250,000 raised to help balance the budget this year.

“We’ve been talking about this in a lot of ways,” Michael said. “Our costs saving measures, very candidly, are not sustainable over time.”

Board chair Joe Dively talked about potential backlash from cutting an athletic program.

“If you think the intensity of what we saw when cutting a major that had 9 people in it was intense, get ready for cutting sports- it’s intense,” he said. “We’re gonna hear impassioned pleas not to do it. We have to have the fortitude to step up to that as well.”

Trustee Dan Caulkins told Michael that as athletic director, this is a decision he would have to make.

“I can’t sit here and tell you to eliminate (a sport),” he said. “I don’t feel that’s my job.”

Caulkins said he does give them his support, even in the case that the administration decides that program has to be cut and if backlash comes, he will take the phone call himself.

“I’ll say this is what’s best for the university as decided by the administration and we stand our president,” he said.

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]