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Athletics department holds town hall meeting, possibility of cutting a women’s sport is high

April 22, 2015

A town hall meeting was held in the North Hall auditorium on Tuesday, April 21, and over 120 students and student-athletes were in attendance to discuss the future of the women’s golf and tennis teams.

In the proposed $4.9 million budget cuts, the athletics department has been faced with a $100,000 General Purpose Revenue (GPR) budget cut in 2015-2016. In turn, a consideration to cut both the women’s tennis team and women’s golf team has rose.

Many people stood up and spoke during the open meeting where Athletic Faculty Committee Chair Grace Coggio, along with UW-River Falls Athletic Director Roger Ternes and Associate Athletic Director Crystal Lanning were listening to comments by all.

This committee after listening to the town hall meeting, will now suggest to Chancellor Dean Van Galen if they believe the two sports should be suspended, according to Coggio.

One voice that was heard many times during the meeting was Softball Head Coach Faye Perkins. She voiced her opinion on many issues, most concerning Title IX.

“It seems like we are not in compliance with Title IX even now, it is a federal law which we are required to meet, and with the cut of these two sports we would be even more out of compliance,” Perkins said.

Title IX refers to any educational program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, in this case, athletics.

Schools may choose any of three prongs of Title IX to satisfy its participation component. They are to provide athletic participation opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the undergraduate enrollment, demonstrate a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex, and to fully accommodate the interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex.

Ternes said during the meeting in reference to the first prong, relating to the proportional undergraduate enrollment: “We have 60 percent female on this campus, to comply with this prong, we would need about 100 additional females to be proportional.”

In response to this statement, basketball Head Coach Cindy Holbrook talked about if they wanted to comply with prong one of Title IX they would have to add players to specific teams: “I love my team, but adding more players and having to start a junior varsity program is not going to give these athletes the full experience they deserve.”

The document that was distributed to everyone before the meeting stated the effects on the community that both tennis and golf have: “The effect on the community would be limited. Support for the program comes primarily from the families and friends of the tennis and golf team members.”

The financial implications were also included in the documents, combined between the two considered sports would be a savings of $31,097.75.

“Carrying forward an anticipated 103,000 athletic budget deficit, there would be no funds available to reallocate within or outside of the athletics unit,” according to the document provided.

Jennifer Willis-Rivera, a communications teacher, was also in attendance, and during a phone interview after the meeting Willis-Rivera spoke of the other side of the cuts.

“I can’t imagine a single area on campus not feeling the cuts. Some people at the meetings last night were talking about athletics being cut in previous years and they should be left alone, but there is no way that athletics is not going to feel a cut,” Willis-Rivera said. “Even if we got rid of athletics entirely, that wouldn’t come close to getting our budget taken care of. Everyone is going to feel these cuts.”

Student Senate has responded with a possible solution, in an email from President Anthony Sumnicht: “Senate has moved to add a new item of business to the Senate agenda, to approve a binding referendum to approve a proposal of a new $3 per semester allocable segregate fee to support the athletics department, women’s golf and women’s tennis.”

The women’s tennis team attended the meeting and most athletes spoke on the topic. They spoke of eight prospective students who will join the team in the upcoming year and spoke of how “four of eight” would not come if the tennis team was cut.

Other players on the team spoke about leaving the school if the tennis team was cut. An astonishing recommendation was made toward the end of the tennis team’s statements, where they considered shortening their season from 10 months to five months as well as the making changes to the coach’s salary.

Other comments were in recommendation of not cutting the team, but altering how funds are used such as cutting meals down on away games, traveling costs, and recruitment by some of the players.

Tennis Head Coach Michele Bailey spoke of the risk of a lawsuit if the two sports are suspended.

“Is the chancellor willing to take a risk of thousands of dollars in costs with a lawsuit, or the money to cut these teams?” Bailey said.

Chancellor Dean Van Galen was not in attendance at the meeting.

Ternes said numerous times during the meeting that he “agrees with all the statements here tonight.”

“We shouldn’t be cutting from tennis and golf, we should be adding money to tennis and golf,” Ternes said. “Right now, we aren’t at risk of complying with Title IX, but with the cuts of these two teams, we are more at risk.”

Tanner Milliron, the president of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and starting men’s hockey goaltender, afterwards put out a tweet to help raise awareness on the topic and encourages students to get their voices heard and that they can make a difference not only about this topic, but others as well.

The next process is for the Athletic Faculty Committee to decide what they will recommend to the chancellor. There is no timetable set for that decision.

As for Senate and its proposed increase to the allocable segregate fee to support the Athletics Department, that will be discussed in the upcoming Senate meetings. Senate meets every Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Willow River Room of the University Center.