After months of working to identify a sustainable funding model for Pronghorns hockey, the committee trying to revive the men’s and women’s programs has been discontinued by the University of Lethbridge.
The news came in the form of a letter to alumni and committee members this week, from U of L president and vice-chancellor Mike Mahon.
Hockey Advisory Committee chair Dan LaPlante says the decision was a disappointment, after group members made recommendations they believed checked all the boxes laid out by the university.
“We came up with a proposal that dealt with the gender equity piece, that dealt with the community funded piece, and engaged the community,” LaPlante said.
“So our committee fulfilled its task, we met all of our benchmarks. Unfortunately, the university wasn’t in a position to see this through.”
LaPlante says the committee proposed a model that was two-thirds community funded, leaving the U of L on the hook for $220,000 a year total.
The recommendations were made in January, and on Wednesday, the university’s statement addressed the rejection.
“While the committee identified potential financial support within the community, we have been unable to arrive at a model that does not include a substantial ongoing funding investment from the university,” the statement from Mahon read.
The statement outlined “larger-than-anticipated” provincial budget cuts, including a 5.8 per cent ($5.7 million) cut to its operating grant. According to the release, this cut is in addition to cuts of 3.2 per cent and 6.6 per cent over the past two years.
“The university expects a further cut of 5.5 per cent in the 2022/23 operating grant.
“These reductions, coupled with a significant negative financial implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, have been felt in every corner of our university and has resulted in the loss of over 100 positions thus far,” the statement said.
Former Pronghorns head coach Doug Paisley says he believes he could have trimmed some major fat in his women’s hockey team’s budget — totalling about $300,000 for the 2019-20 season — but he wasn’t given the opportunity to make suggestions prior to the program being abruptly cut last April.
“I could have changed that budget immensely, and it wouldn’t have impacted the level for the student athletes coming to the program,” Paisley said.
“There would have been more challenges on the men’s side, but for me directly on the women’s side, I could have cut that budget in half, no problem.”
“We could have operated no problem, and being a local guy, I would have done it for free.”
Paisley says he was thrilled to hear that LaPlante — who committed $125,000 over five years to the women’s hockey program during the 2019-20 season — would be chairing the Hockey Advisory Committee, and was disappointed to hear that his group had been discontinued.
“What an absolute, epic waste of time for a bunch of great people, and the ask of Dan to chair it, I think they gave him lip service and I think they wasted their time,” Paisley said.
“I don’t think they ever had an honest look, and I don’t think they were ever going to give it an honest chance.”
LaPlante says he hopes the committee’s recommendations were given fair consideration.
“I was allowed to select the community members, and they’re very strong community members that were selected for this committee; and in my heart of hearts, I believe that this was given a fair shake.”
LaPlante says his group did extensive research into funding models being employed across the country.
“You need a partner, and we had a community that was prepared to step up, to fulfill two-thirds of the financial obligations,” he said.
“You want the university to have skin in the game, that’s very important for this to have success, and they’re just not in a position to be able to do that.”
Paisley believes that the university will have to spend money to make money, and says by cutting 52 hockey players, it is missing out on a significant revenue source.
“The financial gain to the university from just tuition and books for those 50 kids is probably in the $8,000 per kid range, per year, which is $400,000 plus in revenue,” he said.
Both the former coach and LaPlante believe the impacts in the long-term will be felt off the ice, more than on it.
“The student athletes that come to Lethbridge grow to love Lethbridge,” Paisley said.
“These people end up being pillars of our society, and contributing, and giving back, and paying taxes, buying houses, consuming.”
“The economic impact — I just think this is decision is so short-sighted, it lacks leadership, it lacks vision, it lacks accountability.”
LaPlante says he’s most concerned about the unintended consequences of the decision.
“I’ve been involved as a former board member at the U of L, involved with advancement and fundraising efforts, and I worry about the relationships; long-term, what this could do,” LaPlante said. “I worry about the connectivity, to the community, losing the two hockey teams.”
The committee chair has been a significant financial supporter of Pronghorns hockey and says he’s disappointed by the outcome, and he hopes that down the road there can be a chance for the university to reconsider.
“Lethbridge as a whole is near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I don’t want to make decisions rashly, but on a personal note, we may have to review our gifting program. It’s too early, I need to noodle on it, and think about things.”
University president Mike Mahon declined a Global News request for interview.