Saturday, February 21, 2009

Softball/Baseball Catamounts Become Sacrificial Lambs

On Feb. 20, 2009, the Burlington Free Press announced that UVM was eliminating its Baseball and Softball programs after the 2009 season for financial reasons. As a friend of UVM, I shared my reactionary perspective with the UVM President, their Athletic Director, and their Spokesman.

President Fogel responded within minutes of my Saturday morning email. I appreciate his consideration and comments. Athletic Director Robert Corran replied a couple hours later with an equally appreciated thoughts.

Here is my email and their replies:

President Fogel, AD Corran, and Spokesman Corredera --

I'm writing to express my dismay at the decision to eliminate the entire baseball and softball programs at UVM.

As a senior manager at my organization, I fully recognize the difficulty of making financial cuts, especially those of the magnitude UVM faces. I recognize the decision has been made and there is veritably no chance it will be changed. However, if those opposed don't speak out, the sound bite becomes "Response has actually been surprisingly positive" -- so here's a voice against that soundbite.

I grew up playing baseball in rural Vermont, dreaming of a chance to play for a championship at UVM's Centennial Field (only to lose in the semi-finals twice). My oldest daughter was Vermont's Gatorade Softball Player of the Year and was offered a full Green Mountain Scholarship to UVM -- and looked long and hard at the opportunity. She chose SMC instead and we've enjoyed playing our "cross-town rivals" in softball's Fall Ball each of the past three years. Plus, I earned a Certificate in Leadership through UVM's VT Business Center. So, I'm not an alum or a booster, but I am a friend of the University (heck, I own and wear a UVM t-shirt ...).

I would have preferred across the board cuts shared by all teams rather than eliminating the sports of 43 of your 584 athletes. Certainly, I recognize the attention/benefit/revenue that hockey and basketball bring to UVM and to Vermont -- even with the glory days of Brennan/Coppenrath LeClair/St.Louis gone by. Certainly, I recognize that eliminating entire sports sends a far stronger message to the faculty and elicits far greater public sympathy than simply reducing everyone's budget. Still, despite it's strategic sense, this approach leaves 43 athletes as the sacrificial lambs ... and that bothers me.

Yep, I understand the university will "honor the scholarships" but you've crushed the dream that came with it. Yep, they can likely transfer, but by now, they should be deeeeply in love with UVM and going elsewhere would be heartbreaking.So, count me as a voice who would have preferred each sport have one less paid assistant coach and one less scholarship rather than have the University turn it's back on 43 athletes that it recruited ... Difficult? Certainly. Unsurmountable? Though admittedly uninformed, I don't think so.

Therefore, here's hoping the sound bite becomes "People are understandably upset that these 43 kids couldn't come first in our priorities, but they understand why we did what we did and now it's time to move forward."

In all sincerity, best wishes in restoring the financial health of Vermont's educational flagship. I will continue to wear my Catamount shirt with pride -- but ache for those students caught in middle.

President Fogel's Reply --

Thank you for a thoughtful response. Rest assured that we will never downplay the pain and disappointment occasioned by this necessary but strategic decision--feelings that we too share. I appreciate very much your thoughtful comments and your continuing support of Vermont's university. With every good wish, sincerely--Dan Fogel

Athletic Director Corran's Reply --

Thank you for your e-mail re: the decision to cut baseball and softball at the end of this season.It was an extremely difficult decision to make precisely because of our understanding the impact that it will have on the lives of 43 student-athletes and 6 staff. The data-driven part of the decision was clear but the human-impact part made it exceedingly difficult. We must do all that we can to assist and support these student-athletes and staff in the coming days and weeks and we are committed to doing so. Again, sincere thanks for your thoughts and concern. They are very much appreciated.

With that, as I said, it's time to move on and hope for the best for our friends at UVM. Vermont continues to provide among the lowest percentage of State support to its State colleges in the nation ... and I guess this is what we get for it. Here's hoping Dr. Fogel can lead UVM to prosperity. Go Catamounts!!