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!!


Anonymous said...

I am the parent of one of the affected athletes. We have not heard word one from the school about what the athletic department will do to help athletes that wish to transfer find positions at other institutions. The fact that a plan for this did not attend the announcement concerns me that the administration does not understand how complicated that process can be. Are you able to offer any help in getting that word out?

Kevin McCullough said...

The sad part of this situation is that President Fogel and AD Corran are totally insensitive to the parents of the 43 players. Are their fingers broken? The least they can due is reach out by phone to speak the parents who shared in the decision of sending these students-athletes to UVM.

They took the easy way out make an announcement and move on. This was so easy -- what team is next!

Kevin McCullough

Anonymous said...

JB--- while we all appreciate the dissatisfaction with the decision to cut UVM baseball/softball, I do hope you and many others will start to consider more realistic outcomes and problems regarding the decision before you “move on” based on the alarmingly weak response from the AD and President. While any sport would have been devastated by the decision, cutting baseball of all programs made the least sense of almost any sport. There are 28 student-athletes on the team, but the team has 7 full scholarships to disperse among those 28. By cutting baseball, UVM loses the income of 21 (mostly out of state) students—and if you’re from Vermont I’m sure you are aware out of state tuition comes at a $40,000 per year price tag. As a senior manager, I’m sure you can viably think out the money saved of $450,000 does not account for the money lost on tuition, Victory Club pledges from donors revoking their contributions, room and board, and every other penny spent by having these 43 athletes at the University of Vermont.

Among the “missing” pay cuts you mentioned are not only those of the other teams- yes one scholarship per team and one assistant would have made up the difference- the baseball budget was $450,000 in total. The school does not pay for its southern trips either. Despite Corran stating each team would have to cut “nearly 50% of its budget”- a fact that is blatantly untrue. Neither Fogel or Corran have taken a pay cut themselves... I’m not sure in any business where the company is millions in the red where the leader wouldn’t be fired, let alone not take a pay cut. Despite the public image of this being a well-thought out decision, the student-athletes and parents were told “up until two weeks ago, we were looking at increasing the money spent on the baseball program.” This came straight from Athletic Director Corran- verbally and in print. So two weeks was the time it took to not only decide to not invest in baseball, but to cut it?

The willingness to roll over and die on this issue is appalling. Vermont has long been noted for its political activism. So now, when faced with a decision affecting the lives of its own- not just for right now, but years down the road, the elimination of a program that has been on the UVM campus for 111 years, and a problem that was never looked at or given to the community, alumni, and others to look for an alternative solution Vermonters take the attitude “it’s time to move on” with the weak explanations given? Let’s face it, Vermont high school baseball pales in comparison to nearly every other state in the country and having the dream of being able to play Division 1 baseball is obsolete without the UVM baseball program. From the hundreds upon hundreds of small children who show up to Bill Currier’s summer camps, to the thousands of fans, Vermont baseball stood for MUCH more than a place to play and be educated for the 28 players.
Honoring the scholarships is a load of crap- to put it nicely. I urge you to look into who has those scholarships and how many of those students that even if they chose to remain would pay over $20,000 a year to stay at the University of Vermont, not to even mention without the friends, without the sport, and without the dreams they came to the university to pursue. A large sum of the money belongs to seniors, who will obviously not be coming back to the school. If you do want to give up on UVM baseball and softball, why would you not at least push for full-scholarships offered to those who stay? After all, the agreement to come to UVM and play was not to come for one to three years and have the program cut. The agreement was to play for four years and the school did not follow through on their end of the deal.

As you mentioned, sure freshmen and sophomores can find another school to play for, albeit there aren’t too many schools who have much money to offer as it is almost March, the fall signing period has passed, and UVM’s stellar decision to drop this bombshell one week before the season, rather than over winter break or in the fall, leaves all the juniors to give up their senior season of baseball and freshman and sophomores to shop around in a limited market, where the big money goes out in the fall.

Again, we appreciate the support; however, I do not think many will be heeding the advice to simply give up as you suggested. I would ask you to reconsider your decision to do such as well and if nothing else, put some effort into asking compensation for these athletes who are now affected in eligibility, financially, and scholastically for the rest of their collegiate careers.