Running out of travel money: Programs face axe as budget woes hit CIAU
By John Intini
The recent bowing-out of the University of Victoria Vikings from the Western Canadian volleyball conference for the 1998-99 season has university sport officials across the country thinking twice about opening up their wallets and it has members of the Vikings steaming at these penny-pinching tactics.
In an attempt to save money, the cash-strapped Vikings have formally dropped out of their conference volleyball programs as of April 1 in an attempt to balance the school sports budget. Viking women's head coach Jill Fougner said the move, which will decrease athletic spending by $126,000, has been met by a number of mixed reactions.
"The athletes are devastated by the move," Fougner said. "Obviously the school saw a need to cut back on some of its spending and based on our extensive travelling expenses, we got cut."
Even though the Vikings are currently dropping out of the Canadian Western conference, they will continue to compete in regional play and the coaches said they will attempt to save their teams through fund-raising.
"The whole issue has made me extremely angry based on how poorly it has been handled by administration," Fougner said. "The problem has fallen into the hands of the volleyball programs, but based on our early fund-raising success, I am quite confident that there might be a fairy tale ending to this tragic story.
The chief executive officer of the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union Kerry Moynihan said the one-time fund entitled Financial Assistance for Geographically Isolated CIAU Institutions (FAGICI), has dwindled from $300,000 at its inception 15 years ago, to a mere $20,000 this year. The fund, initially set up to provide for athletic travelling expenses, only provides for Memorial University in Newfoundland this year and will no longer exist in any respect next season.
"We certainly don't like to see programs having to be pulled and we feel deeply for the athletes," Moynihan said. "But it is simply getting harder and harder for us to provide money. The funds are just not there."
The money which is provided from the federal government, more specifically Sports Canada, has been on a steady decline based on the organization's annual 15 per cent cut to its budget. This has forced schools to find other means to get money or, as in the Victoria case, drop programs altogether.
"The purse strings are a hell of a lot tighter than they have ever been," Frank Butler, associate director of activities at Memorial said. "It forces schools to think twice before sending their students across the country to compete. It is simply not feasible anymore."
Based on the geographic location of some of the Western and Eastern Canadian schools, flying is the only means of transportation for athletic teams to get to competitions. With six Western schools spanning over four provinces, financial obstacles are inevitable. Simon Fraser University in British Columbia has even begun to compete in the NCAA, similar to the move the University of Alberta made in the late 1980s.
Butler, who's school has yet to drop any programs, also commented on the fact that dropping sports programs has an effect much greater than within athletic circles.
"When you have to stop dropping profile sports, both recruiting as well as school spirit is affected," Butler said. "Community involvement is lessened and people have less respect for the school involved."