One of the great celebrations in American college sports took place Monday night with the crowing of a new men’s basketball champion in Phoenix, Ariz.
There was no celebrating at the University at Buffalo.
The university paid a price for competing at the top level of college athletics by concluding it had to eliminate four sports teams – men’s soccer, baseball, men’s swimming and diving and women’s rowing.
The cuts, effective at the end of this school year, represent a belt-tightening that ultimately will save $2 million a year in athletic department spending, UB said.
The decision was met with sadness, anger and sympathy from the students and fans impacted.
“I guess doing things right doesn't matter,” tweeted UB senior soccer player Austin Place. “Back to back title games, highest GPA on campus and loads of community service. Still in shock.”
Soccer star Russell Cicerone, who in January became the first UB player drafted by the MLS, called the move “humiliating.”
“I am so disappointed in this decision that I can no longer be proud of the university I called home for the past four years,” Cicerone wrote in a letter posted on Twitter.
“I guess I would say that while I’m really upset and disappointed that this has happened to our team and the other teams, there’s nothing we can really do about it,” said UB sophomore Mason Miller, the Mid-American Conference men’s swimmer of the year this season. “The university made the decision to cut these programs, and everyone just has to accept this reality.”
The cuts bring UB’s sports teams from 20 down to 16, the minimum number required to compete at the NCAA’s top level of Division I athletics, known as the Football Bowl Subdivision. Three other MAC schools – Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan – were at 16 teams this year.
“It’s a sad day,” said Athletics Director Allen Greene, “to share with our student-athletes that we just don’t have the ability on a long-term basis to support their endeavors in a way that’s both beneficial and rewarding to them and for us to produce championships the way we want to.”
UB’s athletic department budget for the 2015-16 school year was $31.9 million, which ranked third in the 12-team MAC, according to federal budget documents. The MAC average athletics budget was $29.4 million.
UB President Satish K. Tripathi said the decisions were based on an “overarching review of our athletics department,” an assessment separate from the rest of the university and not tied to UB’s overall budget for 2017-18. Tripathi said UB is not planning budget cuts in other units or departments for the coming fiscal year.
Greene said the cutbacks would not have a financial impact on UB’s most popular sports, basketball and football. He said it would not impact the push to build an $18 million field house for football, which is on the drawing board.
In a broader sense, the cuts can be viewed as an attempt by UB to rein in the subsidy the university provides the athletic department. Roughly three quarters of the UB athletics budget, in the $24 million range, has been subsidized with students’ fees and general university funds, which primarily are composed of tuition and state tax dollars. UB’s subsidy of athletics ranked ninth in the nation, according to a 2015 higher education study, and numerous MAC schools were high on the list.
Tripathi said there has been an “understanding that we will reduce that subsidy” and that an assessment of athletic spending in 2017 had been planned for a couple years. Athletics fund-raising represents about 10 percent of the athletics budget.
“Our fund-raising this year probably is going to break all the records in terms of athletics fund-raising,” Tripathi said. “It’s not a big number, but I think we’re going to be more than $3 million this year.”
Football is the most expensive college sport, and UB’s football budget was $7.53 million last year. Football drew the ire of some in the UB community Monday.
“Absolutely ridiculous that UB men's soccer gets cut when the bottomless pit of UB football is throwing country music concerts before games,” said former UB soccer player Vinny DiVirgilio on Twitter.
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