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Student Senate information session continues dialogue between students and university

ATHENS, Ohio (Feb. 6, 2007) -- In a session that ran into overtime, students had a chance to ask the lingering questions they had for Department of Athletics and Ohio University leadership about the recent elimination of four sports programs. 

Ohio University Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt and Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur were the guests at a special information session hosted by Student Senate and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Athletics staff members Amy Dean and Rob Andrey were also on hand to answer questions about finances and the decision-making process.

Originally scheduled from 6 to 7:10 p.m., the information session spilled over into a large lecture hall in the building and continued for another hour and a half.

Students have voiced serious concerns about the decision since the Jan. 25 announcement that the men's swimming and diving, men's indoor and outdoor track and women's lacrosse programs will be discontinued after this season. Students' complaints focused on the validity of the reported statistics the Athletics department has used regarding its finances and Title IX requirements and the lack of outside consultation and student input used in the decision-making process.

Swimmer Branden Burns referenced a quote by NCAA President Myles Brand that said no university should cut sports to comply with Title IX requirements.

Former swimmer Matt Bell and current track and field team members Craig Leon and Brian King continually challenged the validity of the financial numbers that Athletics used in making its decision to eliminate the sports with charts and figures of their own. 

SAAC president and swim team member Michaela Hahn-Lawson said student-athletes are most disappointed in the process because no current student-athletes were involved. 

"My entire college decision was based on Ohio University having a coed swimming and diving program," Hahn-Lawson said. "The decision to cut the men's program also affects the women's team because we consider ourselves one swimming and diving team."

The students' questions led Hocutt and his staff to spend much of their time clarifying the numbers and justifying the reasons for their decisions.

Hocutt opened the session with a PowerPoint presentation that gave details about the predicament the Athletics department is currently facing because of Title IX requirements and a lack of adequate funding to maintain 20 intercollegiate sports.

"The current financial state of the Athletics department places the university at risk," Hocutt said.

Decatur then explained to the audience how the athletics budget fits in with the overall university budget, which also has dwindled in recent years because of stagnant state funding, state imposed 6 percent tuition caps and increasing expenditures.

"The fact that our Athletics department has the second-most sports in the Mid-American Conference and the third-lowest budget is the root of the problem," said Decatur. 

Hocutt said the seven-member committee that helped make the decision to cut the four sports looked at three issues -- the state of the athletics program, Title IX and finances.

Hocutt said another determining factor was a recent Ohio University Internal Audit report. The report recommended that the Athletics department investigate whether it can adequately fund 20 sports programs. 

"We need to make sure that each sport we sponsor has the necessary resources and has a realistic chance to compete for championships," Hocutt said. "We are already looking at a $4 million deficit this year and while eliminating the sports won't balance the budget, we couldn't continue operating 20 sports with decreasing revenue."

To be compliant with Title IX, the Athletics department is making its level of participation "substantially proportionate" to its respective full-time undergraduate enrollment.

"In order to prepare for NCAA recertification in 2008, we had to develop a plan that will make us compliant with Title IX," Hocutt said. "We knew we couldn't financially afford to add another women's sport."

Student-athletes proposed many alternative options to Hocutt and his staff throughout the night, including the possible creation of a women's water polo team that would need minimal resources. Raising private money to endow the programs and a gradual phase-out plan for each sport that would allow the current athletes to complete their eligibility were most mentioned. Hocutt listened to all of the recommendations and promised that he would give a gradual phase out some thought during the next few days before making a final decision. 

"We are an extremely stressed athletics department and we just couldn't continue to operate like we have in the past," Hocutt said. "President (Roderick) McDavis asked me to create a plan that will eventually balance the Athletics budget in the coming years."

Ohio University Vice President for Student Affairs Kent Smith told the student-athletes that he could only empathize with them and he admired them for their fighting spirit. He also asked them to cooperate with the university from this point forward because at the end of the day, the administration must do what's best for Ohio University during tough financial times.

"This information session provided a forum to have open communication about this issue," said Student Senate President Morgan Allen. "I was encouraged that Mr. Hocutt and his staff were kind enough to stay longer than scheduled to answer the students' questions."

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Media Contact: Media Specialist George Mauzy, 740-597-1794 or mauzy@ohio.edu

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