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Future of swim team remains undecided

March 7, 2014

Part of the team, including senior David Zaske, third from left, lined up before the Oct. 19 meet vs. UW-Oshkosh.
Part of the team, including senior David Zaske, third from left, lined up before the Oct. 19 meet vs. UW-Oshkosh. Another meeting regarding the future of the swim team will be held after students and staff returns from spring break. (Kathy M. Helgeson/University Communications)

The UW-River Falls Athletics Department is taking on a $48,500 base cut in 2014-15, along with already carrying forward a $10,000 deficit, leading to a tough decision on the future of the swimming and diving team.

There were two meetings this week held by the Faculty Senate Athletic Committee to get public input and to look at options outside of suspending or terminating the team.

It was revealed at the Town Hall meeting held on Monday, March 3, that the future of the team comes down to eight considerations. Athletic Director Roger Ternes said these eight considerations have been put in place since before his time here and the Athletics Department uses them when looking at every team.

A handout with these considerations was given out the meeting. It also included how many men and women’s sports teams each WIAC institution has, along with enrollment numbers, as well as the evolution of sports at UWRF since 1970.

At a Faculty Senate Athletic Committee meeting held on Wednesday, March 5, a similar sheet was handed out with the committee’s answers to the considerations.

The eight questions were listed in no priority order, and according to the sheet handed out at the meeting, include: What is the sports impact to Title IX? Are the facilities adequate to support a competitive program? What is the competitive and participation history of the sport? Is quality, consistent coaching available? What are the financial implications, including reallocating resources within and outside of Athletics? What is the contribution to broad-based Athletics program? What is the teams effect on community involvement and service? What are the enrollment implications, including impact on the University’s strategic enrollment goals?

There are three out of eight areas that the UWRF swimming and diving team are lacking in. Their competitive history has not been strong.

The women’s team has finished last in the WIAC post-season meet for the past ten years. The men’s team has finished last in the meet nine out of the past 10 years and the teams have finished last or second to last in the WIAC post-season meet 40 of the last 46 years.

While everybody at both meetings was in an agreement that quality coaching has been there for the team, it is consistency that has been an issue. The position is part time and at only $21,530, according to the athletic committee.

The biggest issue that continues to come up with the team is that UWRF does not have its own swimming facility. The committee stated on the handout that it did not have the feeling of “home” like it would if it was a UWRF facility. Members of this team mentioned it is the only swimming pool they have ever swam in here and it is home to them.

Athletics pays a rent fee to the River Falls High School to use the pool. At both meetings members of the team brought up that it is cheaper to pay the rent to the high school than if the University had its own pool to maintain. The Falcon Center being built has a spot for a swimming pool to be built someday if the money is there, but it will not have one right away.

Ternes said that this is a big reason Athletics is looking at suspending the program.

“Suspending a program is different from dropping or terminating a program. There may a time when we can have a swimming program again if the decision is made to suspend it,” Ternes said. “There is an infrastructure in place for a swimming pool in the new Falcon Center.”

Head Coach Mike Bollinger said the nice part about the Town Hall meeting was that it gave the team an opportunity to show how much support it has. Bollinger said there were alumni from the 1970s all the way through the 2000s, faculty members, UWRF community members, former coaches and even members from the UW-Eau Claire swimming and diving team that talked on behalf of the program.

“A lot of different people got to talk about what the program has done for them and what it is still currently doing,” Bollinger said. “It was a nice breath of fresh air.”

Ternes echoed those thoughts. “There were people that were here 30 years ago all the way to swimmers in the middle of the career that passionately talked about the program,” Ternes said. “It was uplifting to see.”

Bollinger has taken on a lot this season in his first year as head coach. By the time he was hired there were already teams in the conference that had started practice. Now he is trying to keep the members of the team hopeful as it fights for its future.

“My first year was amazing. It was a really quick learning curve, Bollinger said. “A lot of the values I have and try to coach the team already had. They have to get up at 4:45 a.m. every day for practice and conduct themselves with honor.”

Bollinger said the team had success this season including breaking some school records on the men’s side, as well as getting 13 new entries on the top ten list on the women’s side. He said he is still working to update them to put on the website as the final conference meet just got done.

Ternes said he has been impressed with the job Bollinger has done this year taking on the position as a fulltime student, in a tough major and with how he conducted himself at the meeting. The team will only be losing four seniors from this year’s team and looks to have a bright future if it stays together.

“No one envies the decision that has to be made or the decision on how to fix the deficit that they have,” Bollinger said. “I am hopeful. This is a growing program and that is statistically speaking, not just a coach saying that we feel we are getting better.”

One of the things that both Bollinger and senior David Zaske said they wanted to make clear at the meeting was that they did not want to turn their situation around on any other athletics team even though it might feel like swimming and diving is under attack right now.

“As student athletes we are all one big group,” Zaske said. “Whatever happens I hope it can be the best for the University.”

The committee has made no vote on the future of the swim team and is planning another meeting after Spring break to further discuss the eight considerations and the budget.