Seventy students whose teams are in danger of being cut, and the dozens more who showed up to support them, met with administrators in an emotionally charged Solomon 001 Friday at 8 a.m. to discuss controversial recommendations that would eliminate four varsity athletic teams.
The Athletics Review Committee's proposal to eliminate the men's and women's fencing teams, men's wrestling team and the women's ski team are intended to strengthen the University's athletics program, said committee Chair Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior adviser to the president. At the meeting, which marked the start of a public comment period concerning the recommendations, students voiced their outrage and questioned the announcement's timing during a heated question-and-answer session following brief speeches by administrators.
"It's important that you hear directly from us," said Michael Goldberger, director of athletics. He added that the lengthy process, which involved reviews by four different committees over two years, has placed a "black cloud over athletics."
"We just could not continue on the path we were on," Goldberger said. Brown has the smallest athletics budget in the Ivy League but fields the third-most teams.
When the discussion process began in 2009 during the University's organizational review, administrators intended to make cuts from the athletics budget. But the recent recommendations would actually increase funding for the remaining teams by roughly 10 percent while eliminating the four teams.
Though Spies acknowledged the recommendations' profound effect on the students and coaches who have devoted so much to the teams in question, he emphasized the committee's top priority was improving the quality of athletics, which are currently suffering from a budget stretched too thin.
"It comes down to how big a program we can promote," he said. "You have to look at the whole picture."
Spies fielded an array of questions from frustrated students. Why announce the changes now, when students no longer have the option of transferring to an institution that offers their sport? What will happen to the coaches, who may soon be unemployed on short notice? Could other teams soon face the prospect of being cut?
Hudson Collins '11.5, a member of the wrestling team, questioned why affected teams were not given more advance notice.
In similar situations, many colleges simply "rip the Band-Aid off" by enacting changes without any input from the community, Spies said. The opportunity for teams to respond is now, he added. Though the committees deliberated for a long time before coming to the decision, Spies said it is possible that a team might bring up an issue that has not yet been considered.
This week, administrators will meet privately with each team. They will also take the proposed changes to the Brown University Community Council Tuesday and the Undergraduate Council of Students Wednesday. Administrators will then finalize their recommendations and present them to President Ruth Simmons, who will in turn offer them to the Corporation at its May meeting. The Corporation will decide if the programs will officially be cut for the 2011-12 academic year.
"The feedback we get, even if it does not make our recommendation, will go to the president," Goldberger said.
Affected athletes have organized a rally against the cuts on the Main Green at 1 p.m. today.
There is never a good time to announce changes such as this, and making an announcement that teams could be cut while the committee deliberated would only have muddled the process, Spies told The Herald after the meeting.
The tension in the audience was palpable. When Cory Abbe '13, a member of the women's fencing team, pointed out a potential conflict of interest on the committee — why appoint the head football coach and two student-athletes from teams unaffected by the recommendations to the committee, given that they would stand to gain more funding if other teams were eliminated? — the audience burst into applause before Spies could respond.
Spies urged students not to question the committee's motives. "You will only damage your case," he said.
He also assured the audience that no additional cutbacks were in the works. "We're recommending a program that is sustainable," Spies said. "There is not a list of next cuts."
But the changes currently under consideration are wrenching enough, students said.
"I live here. I don't go home," said Grant Overcashier '12, a member of the wrestling team, after the meeting. He added the decision is "destroying" his life. A recruited athlete, Overcashier came to Brown from a family with limited financial means, a situation he said is common among wrestlers.
"Brown is my life. Brown is my home, and (wrestling) is why I'm here," he said.
Many students, like football player Tom Uszakiewicz '14, attended the meeting out of solidarity.
"I came here to support all the student-athletes," said Uszakiewicz, adding that, as an athlete, he could not imagine his team being cut after training all of his life to compete at the college level.
For the students whose teams might be eliminated, the possible changes are forcing them to weigh a decision that earlier would have been unthinkable — whether to leave Brown.
"Because of this, they're forcing us to consider transferring," said wrestler Billy Watterson '14.