The Ontario volleyball community was dealt a unpredictable blow two weeks ago. Wilfrid Laurier University cancelled their men's and women's varsity volleyball programs. This decision came as a shock to everyone including the players. The dust has settled, but things are still very unclear. We spoke with a few current players and former players as we tried to put together all of this information.
How the News was Released
Erik Kroman, who will be the last captain of the Laurier men's volleyball team, describes how he found out the program was cancelled.
"The team was shocked to hear of the decision when an article was written on the Laurier Athletics Website" he told Kill on Two. "None of the coaches, players or staff had any idea the team was under serious review by the department of athletics aside from the usual yearly program evaluations."
The article Erik is referring to is a post written by Mike Whitehouse, the Coordinator, Communications and Technology for Laurier Athletics. It is supported by a somewhat vague PDF document entitled "Reshaping the Sport Model for Athletics and Recreation at Wilfrid Laurier University" (PDF link) submitted by the Director of Athletics and Recreation, Peter Baxter. The reason, according to the university, that the volleyball programs were cut was to:
- "provide more gym time and space for recreation and intramural activities"
- "free up approximately $112,000 annually"
We'll address those two items individually later in this article, but for now let's look at how this information was released. Let's face it, Laurier released this information properly. They did everything you should do if your goal is to have a little kick back as possible. It was the end of April and most of the students have finished exams and have gone back home for the summer. The fewer students on campus, the less of an immediate negative response on campus.
They didn't give the students or staff any kind of warning. "We didn't find out as a volleyball team. An email was sent out to every single student at Laurier and that's how we found out" says Tori Cowley, the graduating libero on the women's volleyball team. "The more information that we're finding out [is that] other coaches and players and athletes at our school found out about it before we did". Tori went on to tell us that the way the university released the information seemed very unprofessional. She also told us about some rumours as to why they didn't tell the athletes. "The University had made the decision in late February / early March and didn't want to tell us because of exams".
Sacrificing Varsity Athletics for Recreation
According to the post on the Laurier Athletics website, one of the reasons for ending the program was to "provide more gym time and space for recreation and intramural activities".
Recreation sports at universities should not affect varsity athletics. Period. They should not share the same budgets, they should not affect scheduling and they should not be the reason for cancelling a program, let alone two.
Sam Schachter is a member of the Canadian National Beach Volleyball Team playing overseas on the FIVB tour. Sam played on the men's volleyball team at Laurier for two years before going to train on the national team full time.
"I do not necessarily believe that varsity sports should suffer to make room for intramural sports and recreational programs, but there is an obvious demand that has to be met at Laurier. I think that an obvious financial strain is probably the reason for the termination of varsity volleyball at Laurier, and there is a profit to be made from intramural sports. However, I cannot hide my disappointment at the schools dramatic decision to end such a popular sport. I have been talking to some of my peers at school and it already seems that the student body is quite upset. "
Varsity athletics at universities plays an important role in the development of future professional athletes and future Olympians. The majority of athletes playing their sport professionally, developed their skills in university athletic programs. What does it say about athletics in our country when we sacrifice varsity level programs to replace it with intramurals and recreation? Do we care more about collecting the participation fees from the gym class all stars than we do developing our future Olympians?
The budgets for operating the men's and women's volleyball teams at Laurier total $112 000 annually. Cancelling the programs frees up this money and the gym time. In the Laurier PDF document, Baxter states that "universities across Canada, including Laurier, have faced some significant budget challenges". We understand that many people, businesses and yes universities have had some hard times in the last couple years financially. $112 000 annually is still peanuts. The document goes on to show that entire men's volleyball program for the year can be run for $47 000 and the women's for $65 000. This covers the: salaries of coaches, travel, hotels, jerseys, equipment, referee's and linesperson's pay and more. The salaries alone should cost the universities their $112 000 budget. The fact that they are running an entire program on those costs is incredibly efficient.
The document goes on to state that Laurier is "is committed to developing the best Athletics and Recreation program in Canada". It also says that in order to make volleyball compete , they would have to double their current budget. Wilfrid Laurier is scrapping volleyball because they can use the money in other places to make other sports more competitive.
They have the perfect environment to have a thriving volleyball program:
- Kitchener and Waterloo do not have any major sports teams. The highest level of athletics in those cities occur at Laurier and The University of Waterloo. When people want to go see a sporting event, these schools are where to go.
- They have a thriving volleyball community. RIM Park in Waterloo hosts the OVA Provincial Championships where 8000 athletes come to compete over three weekends in indoor club volleyball. Club programs like the KW Predators provide young people who are interested in the sport a competitive learning environment to develop their skills.
- Lastly, The Waterloo County Volleyball Camp has been running for 17 years, providing great coaching and creating an excellent foundation.
Laurier could've been the Nebraska of CIS volleyball. They have all the parts necessary to have that program thrive. What Terry Pettit did at Nebraska should've been attempted at Laurier. Coach Pettit grew that program from the ground up by reaching out the community and making Nebraska volleyball what it is today.
Pettit built one of the most tradition rich volleyball programs in NCAA history. This is evidenced by up to this day, the Nebraska's Cornhuskers volleyball team has had consecutive sellouts at the Nebraska Coliseum for years, and an NCAA record 17,209 Husker fans watched Nebraska defeat Stanford at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska for the NCAA title in 2006.
Laurier had a chance to have a program like this and it might have been going this way if it had more time. "I thought the program was on the upswing and finally beginning to develop momentum towards become one of the more competitive teams in the league" says Schachter.
They can turn volleyball into a revenue generator. They can get the money right now to fund the team. In 2009, Laurier needed some financial help to pay for some repairs to their pool. The university, students, members of the community, local businesses, alumni and more raised $2.2 million to help pay for the repairs. "We were in trouble with the pool and everyone chipped in" says Cowley. She went on to question how it was possible to raise so much money for the pool but not a mere $112 000 for both volleyball teams.
Things Don't Add Up
Here are some questions that we (and others) have about the decision.
1. If it was even a possibility that the program was going to be cancelled, why recruit people this year? We don't know the numbers for the men's team, but we do know that at least 3 students coming out of high school this year signed with Laurier to play on the women's volleyball team. These athletes turned down offers at other schools to come to Laurier only to find out their program was getting shut down a few weeks later.
2. Student enrollment has doubled. Did the university not think that intramural numbers were going to increase as well? The student population more than doubled from 1997 to 2006. Surely one would expect intramurals to more than double as well. With intramurals and recreation activities increasing by 155% (according to Mike Whitehouse's post) these kinds of things are predictable, why wasn't something done about it earlier so that programs didn't have to get cut?
3. If Laurier is so "committed to developing the best Athletics and Recreation program in Canada" then why is volleyball getting cut when there are FAR less successful varsity teams at Laurier? The men's and women's rugby teams did not win a single game this last season. Women's rugby has 3 wins in the last 5 years. Men's rugby have one season in the past 5 seasons where they finished over .500. Now that Laurier has made it clear that they are comfortable ending varsity programs to free up money for their department, I would watch what happens to their other teams in the next couple years.
4. Release the full stats. Where are all these stats coming from? It is easy to say that we judged every varsity team on these sixteen criteria but without releasing those results, it seems very suspect. Baxter has ignored our request to see these results.
Baxter has made it very clear that the decision is final. At the time of this post there are over 2600 people in a Facebook event hoping to get the program reinstated at Laurier. Some of the people in the group have had unsuccessful meetings with Baxter. Check back to Kill on Two for any updates.
Were you affected by Laurier ending their programs? Do you have any questions about the decisions made by the university? Let us know what you think in the comments.