Volume 96, Issue 99
Friday, April 4, 2003

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Varsity Athletics: fighting for survival

By Ryan Hickman
Gazette Staff

Walking through the baron bowels of Alumni Hall, you will pass a row of squash courts whose doors are locked, lights are turned out and windows are hermetically sealed. The rationale behind the court's condemnation is that no one has anted up for their occupancy fees.

Many would assume the Alumni Hall squash courts to be the home of the dynastic Western men's squash team, but the Mustangs have not used the facilities since 1994, despite paying the occupancy fees for the courts until this year.

In the 2001/2002 Western Intercollegiate Athletics (IA) budget, a figure of $4,775 could be found on the men's squash team's balance sheet under the expense itemization of occupancy fees for the Alumni Hall courts. The women's squash team were billed $3,425 for the same courts they have not used in 20 years, according to squash coach, Jack Fairs.

Every Mustangs varsity sports team incurs the direct expense of an occupancy fee for the use of facilities on the Western campus, but what is an occupancy fee?

"It is a basic rate that everyone pays," explained Western vice-president of Institutional Planning and Budgeting, Ruban Chelladurai. "An occupancy fee is basically the cost of heating and cooling with cleaning costs divided by the square foot. It is a standard unit by unit negotiation."

An itemized flat rate for IA occupancy fees is annually forwarded from Institutional Planning and Budgeting; the tally is $173,014.72 for the 2003/2004 fiscal year, which includes office and administrative space.

Full-time undergraduate students at Western pay an athletic student fee of $141.35 towards Sports and Recreation Services that is sliced into two parts, with $69 going to Campus Recreation and the other $72.35 landing in the hands of IA.

In the projected 2002/03 IA budget, provided by manager of finance and operations for Sports and Recreation Dan Crim, student fees account for 67 per cent of IA's revenue.

On the complete IA balance sheet, the only contribution from Western's central administration comes in the form of a stadium grant for TD Waterhouse.

Money from student fees is the respirator that keeps IA alive and Western varsity sports running, not the university. The approximate pool of student fees going to IA for the 2002/03 fiscal year is just under $1.9 million.

An anomaly exists within with the relationship between IA, Western students and central administration, and is found in the premise that student athletic fees are supposed to be used for varsity sports. However, student fees are being sifted through IA and being placed back in administration's hands in the form of occupancy fees for the maintenance costs of university owned buildings.

"They believe, at this stage, that they don't have [the] funds [to contribute to IA]... we have to be self-sufficient," said Dan Smith, director of Sport and Recreation at Western, concerning the relatively autonomous position varsity athletics has been put in, terms of funding.

The occupancy fees for the Thames and Alumni Hall facilities only include practice and game times – any outside use is incurred as an additional charge.

The women's volleyball team has run a high school tournament on-campus for the past seven years as a fundraiser. This year the team was tagged with an additional fee for maintenance that they have never encountered in the past.

Dean Lowrie, Western women's volleyball coach, is questioning whether he will run the tournament next year because he did not generate any money with the fundraiser this year, partially due to administrative fees.

With a weekend high school tournament, the university reaps the benefits of food and parking revenues that come with the addition of so many people on campus; however, the volleyball team loses money on the event because of the extra costs incurred. A discontinuation of such a tournament would also mean the loss of hundreds of potential Western students in high school, who get an opportunity to see the campus during the tournament.

Western administration publicly states that athletics is important to the institution – President Paul Davenport even has graduating varsity athletes to his home each year to preach the benefits of wearing the purple and silver as a Mustang. However, the budgetary numbers do not often concur with the sentiment.

With a good number of varsity sports programs at Western not receiving a dime from anywhere within the institution, occupancy fees in the tens of thousands are still being charged by the university's administration – this money could conceivably help keep non-funded teams afloat.

"There are limitations with what [administration] can do – we can't do everything," Chelladurai explained. Chelladurai, who was an Ontario University Athletics badminton champion in doubles and singles as a student at Western, said the university is in a position of being extremely strapped for cash itself. "When we keep cutting faculties, it is hard to keep up with athletics."

Western still won seven OUA championships this past year. However, a real indicator of their success can be found in a comparison with the University of Toronto, whose all-around varsity athletics program has thrived this season, while bringing home 12 OUA titles.

Robin Campbell, executive director of development for U of T's department of physical education and health, explains that Varsity Blues' teams receive their funding from two different avenues. The first is similar to Western's, where the vast majority filters down from student fees for an operational budget, while the second source has three components that consist of annual donations, fundraising and an endowment fund.

"To our knowledge, we are the first school in the country to use an endowment for athletic program support," Campbell said, concerning Project Blue, a matching fundraiser campaign that saw the university's administration offer $2 million to U of T varsity athletics if they could match the number in fundraising, which they subsequently did. Over $4 million currently sits in a fund that pays out approximately five percent annually; the funding goes directly to varsity athletics to be used on top of the other forms of revenue.

Toronto received a tangible indication from their administration that athletics was integral to a flourishing university campus and the results have reaffirmed that.

Another example can be found at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, which has been a national leader in athletics, especially football. The university's athletic operational budget is based on intensive fundraising and capital the university provides, according to SMU's interim athletic director, Kathy Mullane.

SMU students do not pay a set athletic fee, but the Students' Union does make an annual donation to the athletics program that ensures students free admission to all Huskies regular season home games.

Neither SMU or U of T charges an occupancy fee to their individual sports teams, who all happen to receive some amount of funding.

The University of Alberta, who last year tied a Canadian record for the number of national championships won in a season with five, does not have a specific occupancy fee for their varsity sports, but their athletics department manages their own facilities.

"Our faculty is different than everything else on campus. We have the expertise to run these facilities," said Alberta assistant athletics director Mike McTeague, concerning the independence of their faculty of physical education and recreation.

Western's philosophy on intercollegiate athletics was shaped by the Dunn Report in 1971 and unanimously passed by the university's Board of Governors and Senate. Dr. Wesley Dunn, a former dean of dentistry at Western who chaired the committee, explained the thrust of their 1971 presentation.

"Athletics should not be an ancillary or auxiliary like The Bookstore," Dunn, now retired, said about Western IA. "It should be funded on the exact same basis as an academic exercise. The contribution that coaches can make to the literature of their disciplines is beneficial."

Athletics brings notoriety, publicity and a sense of pride to a university, and those intangibles can not be quantified in dollars and cents.

In the past, Western made an ideological commitment to the varsity athletics program, but its subsequent decline has become more and more evident.

Occupancy fees and sealed-up squash courts that have sucked away student money are just a microcosm of the many ills that affect varsity athletics at Western, and across the rest of Canada.

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