Laurier axes varsity volleyball

There won’t be any more spikes, blocks or serves at Laurier.

Early Friday morning, Wilfrid Laurier University’s athletics director Peter Baxter announced the elimination of the school’s men’s and women’s varsity volleyball programs for the 2011-2012 school year and beyond.

The discontinued programs are part of several measures taken by the department to ease the growing costs and facility usage of an exploding recreational and intramural sport-engaged student body, as well as to re-allocate finances to the soccer, basketball and hockey programs.

“It’s a sad day for Laurier,” said Baxter on Friday afternoon. “It’s a tough decision, but one that we had to make for the overall program.”

Baxter’s departmental report outlining the vision statement for Golden Hawks’ varsity athletics showcased a bleak financial reality for the university.

Since 2009, the athletics department has engaged in a comprehensive performance review, with the goal of allocating resources to meet its goal of sustaining excellent varsity squads, while maintaining a commitment to fee-paying students who wish to use the gymnasium for recreational and intramural purposes.

The report states that in order for the volleyball programs, which have hovered around or slightly below .500 (an equal wins-to-losses ratio) in the past few seasons, to remain competitive and to increase in quality, a doubling of finances would need to be achieved, money that Laurier simply doesn’t have.

The budget for the men’s and women’s volleyball programs stood at $47,000 and $65,000 respectively.

This is compared to $250,000 for the top teams in the CIS and just over $100,000 for the second-ranked teams.

That $112,000 will now be re-allocated to shore up the soccer, basketball and hockey teams, which the department believes have a less sizable gap to overcome to become or remain the top teams in Canada.

Within a few hours, a Facebook group opposing the school’s decision was created with over 500 members advocating for the return of volleyball.

“This is totally embarrassing,” said men’s volleyball coach Shayne White. “We turn 100 years old this year and we’re making cutbacks, and we can’t support two programs?…. They want to make room for recreation, and I understand that’s important, but there must be a way to have equal balance… I haven’t heard a conspiracy theory outside the athletic complex that the intramural kids aren’t happy. We work together.”

Baxter said that during the two-year performance review, presentations were made to the athletics and recreation advisory council, and that each team was made aware that evaluations were taking place, with some coach and player feedback.

The main causes of the cuts were due both to the country’s recession in late 2008, and a bursting enrolment level that has every Laurier department and faculty scrambling to accommodate over 14,000 students.

“McGill cut their volleyball program, and institutions across the country are cutting academic programs too… It’s an unfortunate sign of the times,” said Baxter.

The director also cites a 0% status quo budget with no room for growth, and an enlarged hockey budget that needed to meet $15,000 in extra travel costs to emerging hockey schools such as Nipissing and other teams in the Far East division as main factors in the decision.

The money saved from cutting varsity volleyball will also go towards a new co-ordinating position that heads the new “Clubs/Aquatics specialist program” which will oversee the non-Student Union sanctioned clubs and teams.

Currently, former men’s soccer captain Ben Clifford is the only Recreation Coordinator, filling in on an interim basis for Jennifer O’Neill.

“We were underfunded in the fact that I’m not here full time,” said White. “It never felt like we were totally underfunded- it felt like other people were driving BMWs and we’re just driving a typical Toyota- but we’re going to the same place…. We never complained about it. We would have liked to have more opportunities, but we don’t need to go all over the country and all over the world. We were more than happy with where we were.”

In the middle of the contentious decision by the department, stands a gaping need that the school has yet to address in the immediate future- another recreational facility.

“The issue that we’re struggling with is that instead of wasting money all over the university, they should be building a facility for kids to have all the intramurals they want,” said White.

Baxter stated that a facility of that magnitude would cost between $25 – 30 million and would be located near Bouckaert Hall.

The director said that the proposed complex (consisting of three gymnasiums and a running track) is a part of Laurier’s ‘master plan’ which encompasses the next 15-20 years, but has no immediate timeline for expansion.

“As with any master plan, that’s subject to change,” said Baxter.“We would have to have facilities that would accommodate the breadth of the program…. Right now we don’t have the additional recreational facilities that would allow [volleyball] to come back… I don’t see it in the near future at all.”

And for Alanna Kirchner, one of Laurier’s 30 volleyball players, she must now face a decision of either life at Laurier without the sport that made her come to the school, or move to a different university.

“I’m devastated to be honest,” said the women’s team’s rookie of the year this past season. “It’s embarrassing that we can’t hold a volleyball team at our school… I’m sorry but I don’t think intramurals should be a higher priority than varsity…. We worked hard to get where we were… Volleyball’s really important to me, so if Laurier can’t give that to me, then I might have to look elsewhere.”

“Before I was hired, we were 0-17,” White said of the men’s record in years past.

“Since then, we’ve been to the playoffs, and we have two guys at the national beach program… we’re more than competitive,” White said after expressing his dismay that the quality of the teams was a factor in the decision.

The announcement comes one day after Laurier Brantford announced the campus was joining the Ontario Colleges Athletics Association for soccer and basketball, starting in 2014.

“I fully understand that the athletes- including [non-volleyball players], because this is a family- will be upset,” said Baxter. “I understand that because they care so much about Golden Hawk volleyball… It was a decision I had never hoped would come to be.”

“[Laurier is] growing and the sad part is we haven’t prepared for this,” said White.“It’s what everybody wanted and we’re not prepared for it.”