Budget cuts hit Laurier Athletics

The economic crisis has sunk its teeth into Wilfrid Laurier University’s athletic department. In the university’s budget presented last Thursday, the department revealed a cut of approximately $380,000, roughly 16 per cent of the previous years’ budget. These budget cuts have brought on a reduction in university funding to all of Laurier’s varsity sports teams and recreational programs.

Despite the cuts, Laurier has managed to avoid eliminating any of its varsity teams, something that other Ontario universities – such as the University of Windsor, which cut six sports – have been unable to do.

The only way to maintain all of Laurier’s teams was to move to a pay-to- play system, which charges student-athletes a fee to play for the Golden Hawks.

“We had to look at [cutting teams] as an option,” said Peter Baxter, director of athletics and recreation at WLU.

“In talking with our coaches, our advisory committee, as well as the senior administration, it was clear that we wanted to continue to offer as many opportunities as we could in our athletic programs and in the end, the only way to keep all of our teams intact was to go to a pay to play model.”

The pay-to-play fee will vary between teams. It will be determined by things like the the team’s operating expenses, the amount the team generates through revenues and the number of players it carries.

“We understand it’s going to be hard for these student athletes to go from a funded program to pay-to-play,” said Baxter. “But at the end of the day they have to be committed and this will show their commitment to it.”

While every varsity team will have reduced funding, eight teams have had their funding completly cut.

Baseball, figure skating, golf, rugby, cross country and cheerleading will now have to fund their programs with no financial assistace.

Baxter notes that one of the biggest things teams can do to improve their situation is fundraising.

A number of teams are initiating fundraising endeavours to reduce the fee their athletes will have to pay. Men’s baseball, for instance, is hosting a golf tournament, while the football team has opened the Laurier Football Club, which is a community of alumni, who contribute between $100 and $250 for membership.

“Even with the pay-to-play system, we still have to run fundraising events,” said Baxter. “But we’re pretty resourceful in terms of each of our sports having to have some kind of fundraising targets. A number of our teams do a terrific job in fundraising; our football team for instance generates $125,000 [one third] of their budget through fundraising.”

On top of the interuniversity programs, Laurier’s renowned recreation programs have suffered a cut in funding. While no programs will be cut, costs to participate in everything from intramural ball hockey to spinning classes will increase.

As far as a solution is concerned, there are a few options currently being explored. One involves exporting some of Laurier’s sports to the Brantford campus, freeing up facilities to allow more people to take part in recreation programs, which will generate more revenue for the university.

“With the breadth of interuniversity and recreational programs that we have and the pressure on facilities for practices and games, it might be better for us to consolidate some of our sports by moving some to the Brantford campus,” said Baxter.

“I think we should look at Brantford as a possible future destination for either some of our current sports or some emerging sports.”

Another option currently being considered is working with local sports clubs.

Laurier is presently exploring partnerships with Waterloo’s Mat Men Wrestling Club, as well as with the local track and field association.

In the end, no real solution will be possible until the economic crisis is resolved. Baxter remains confident on the matter, maintaining that Laurier Athletics will be able to return to its former strength.

“I am optimistic that the markets will come back and put the university in a good spot,” he said.

“In 2009, we might have to take a step back, but I can say that in the next five years, we’ll be able to shore up and maintain the strength of our current programs.

“You have to make the best of a bad situation, so you can grow when times get better.”