Laurier shakes up its sports model

Following an Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) structure overhaul and an internal performance review of its clubs and teams by Wilfrid Laurier University’s athletics department, the university has rolled out a brand new model of servicing its teams.

The results of the re-structuring started in the spring with the elimination of the volleyball team, and the full effects of the organizational shuffle were seen in a news release distributed by the university in early August.

Among the biggest changes to the model include the way teams are categorized into five tiers. The first is classified as interuniversity “market-driven” teams which Laurier felt needed to be sustained to continue their program of excellence. These include men’s football, and both men’s and women’s hockey, basketball and soccer.

Men’s and women’s curling and swimming comprise the second category, labelled “high-performance interuniversity teams” and round out the rest of the teams receiving full funding from the university. The rest of the tiers include teams that may or may not be a part of the OUA, but need to self-fund to continue playing.

These teams include men’s baseball, men’s and women’s cross country, rugby, lacrosse, golf, women’s fast-pitch, competitive dance, cheerleading and various others. The main source of these clubs’ and teams’ funding comes from fundraising efforts, alumni donations, the Adopt-a-Hawk program, and money from the players’ and coaches’ pockets.

The market-driven teams aren’t fully exempt from fundraising. They must raise their own money for things like extra coaching and exhibition game travel, and other added expenses, said WLU athletics director Peter Baxter.

Along with the re-structuring, WLU athletics is absorbing some clubs that were previously under Wilfrid Laurier Students’ Union (WLUSU) control. Both the union and the athletics department felt that the latter was better suited to service their needs. These clubs include tennis, boxing, archery, ultimate Frisbee, canoeing, kayaking and others.

“We took a look at what we could handle because there’s a lot of increased pressure on the recreation side, we’ve had over 100 teams on the waiting list for things like gym usage, etc.,” said Baxter.

To accommodate these clubs, the department is hiring a clubs and aquatics co-ordinator to handle things such as pool operations and the overseeing of these new clubs.

The teams and clubs that need to pay to play can now apply for a subsidy grant from a pot of about $15,000 the university has budgeted for. The amount each team is eligible to receive is dependent upon factors like their ability to meet fundraising goals and past performance history. Teams like men’s baseball and women’s lacrosse are examples of squads who can garner a large chunk of that pot.

What the university continues to provide all its clubs however, said Baxter, is sports information systems, management support and sports medicine support.

Recently, the women’s lacrosse team had made headlines in their budget cuts. Baxter explained that what they’re asking the lacrosse team to do is no different than the university’s other teams; raise a significant portion of their budget on their own.

“Football has to raise a third of their budget of $125,000. The basketball teams raise over $25,000 each, men’s hockey is over $25,000. In terms of league structure, lacrosse is club-based so we had to bring that in-line with the OUA model,” said the director.

Baxter also cites existing scholarships, the grant the university is making available and the ‘Outstanding Women of Laurier’ fund as possible sources of revenue for the team, whose numbers he notes are not as high as previously reported (at $15,000) thanks to a decreased travel budget from years past.

“In 2009, we had to make a major budget cut of about $300,000,” said Baxter. Eight teams were axed from full university funding at that point. “What we found immediately after,” said the director, “was that the teams that could fundraise and fundraise well, were also successful on the field.”

“Our culture has become bottom line,” said cross country coach Peter Grinbergs. “A large part of our efforts have to be developmental … We want to build energy,” said the coach. “With the financial end of it, you could always use more money. You deal with what you’ve got.”

Grinbergs has seen significant interest in the team rise every year since he was hired a couple years ago and notices the fact that the teams are self-funded doesn’t seem to deter any runners who are passionate enough and want to be on the team.

“I don’t think it’s necessary for Laurier to be involved in every single sport,” said men’s baseball head coach Scott Ballantyne. “I think they do need to pick and choose which sports they want to support and which ones can compete … I think it’s important that if you’re not showing you’re moving in the right direction and devote the time and energy, there’s really no point in being in that sport.”

“I’m waiting for the day where [the cross country team] can stand beside a University of Toronto coach or Western coach and watch them cringe as we sneak up behind them,” said Grinbergs.

“We’ve got a really good attitude. We’re just getting this thing rolling.”

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