For the last two weeks, leaders at the University of British Columbia have been attacked by donors and varsity athletes over a review on the future of UBC’s sports teams.
Now they’re fighting back.
“Let me shout from the rooftops,” says Louise Cowin, UBC’s Vice-President Students and the executive overseeing the review.
“There have been no decisions on what sports will be affected.”
UBC has 29 varsity teams, and a comprehensive review will end next spring, with any changes coming into effect by September 2015.
Cowin indicated that a reduction of teams was likely for a number of reasons. One is that UBC is keen on exploring an “Own the Podium” model for funding, where elite teams and athletes get elite resources. It treats sport less as a public good and more as a business, where extra dollars should result in successful outcomes.
“Might we think about further excellence if we were to focus on fewer teams at a higher level?” says Cowin.
“That potentially means more dollars to fewer sports, but also additional resources for everyone like sports psychology and nutrition and biomechanics and exercise physiology.”
Cowin also mentioned UBC wants to ensure students feel the $200 they pay to Athletics is worthwhile. Less teams means more facility space for recreational teams, and, UBC hopes, a greater focus on teams that can “inspire and create some school spirit.”
So some sports could be threatened. Football or hockey, because of their size and lack of recent success. Sports like skiing or field hockey could suffer because of the lack of local competition. Other sports compete exclusively against Americans, including baseball and golf, and are at risk due to cross-border eligibility requirements.
But the sports on the chopping block aren’t close to being known. UBC says have 13 criteria to evaluate teams, but haven’t decided which ones they will prioritize.
That hasn’t stopped a vocal campaign against change. Marty Zlotnik, who has helped raised millions for UBC’s programs over the years, has bluntly stated he thinks UBC has made up its mind.
“They can’t tell us, because they don’t want to tell us, but I’m pretty sure they know what they want to do,” he says.
Former UBC basketball player Kyle Watson has gotten over 2,100 signatures on a online petition against cutting sports, which says the review “will potentially eliminate sports such as football and hockey and will create athletic complacency and reward status-quo participation.”
Cowin is frustrated by the campaign.
“Change can upset people, and I understand that,” she says. “But we cannot run a process based on yelling. We deeply care about our alumni donors, and I think any one of those people must understand the principle of the need for review.
“It’s really at the moment yelling in the schoolyard. The loudest voices get out there.”
In response, UBC will open up a forum next week for people to give more input to the review. UBC President Stephen Toope also sent an email to all students today, saying he” would like to clarify misinformation that is being circulated regarding the future of UBC’s sports teams” and asked students to get involved.
The “yelling”, as Cowin puts it, will continue for some time. But if her comments are any indication, the question at UBC isn’t whether change will come – it’s what course it will take.
“It’s wins for some, and losses on others, for sure,” she says.
“It’s going to be a tough day for some.”