Lawrence athletics budget takes a hit

Beth McHenry

Countless campus organizations and departments have felt the pang of lowered budgets this year, and the athletics department is no exception. However, some students wonder if lowered budgets may be creating inequalities between teams, specifically in team trips over winter and spring breaks.Traditionally, winter and spring sports teams at Lawrence travel during winter and spring breaks to train and compete. Teams that have traveled in the past include basketball, swimming, wrestling, track, golf, tennis, baseball, and softball.

However, because of budget cuts, many teams are experiencing drastic changes in the student athletic trip experience. Director of Athletics Kim Tatro admits that budget cuts have been made to several teams that usually take trips during breaks. “For affected teams, the administration of the college will allow the trips to occur, but will not provide any funding for this year. If teams have an interest in taking the trip, they will have to pay the total cost to do so.”

Golf budgets in particular have been cut, limiting the golf team’s opportunities to compete. Tournaments that are farther away are not possible since long-distance travel would require extra nights in a hotel, gas expenses, and additional food on the road.

“As far as a spring break trip,” says student golfer Joe Loehnis, “there is none. We have no budget for a trip. Last year, the whole trip – except transportation – came out of our pockets, which for most guys was quite a bit of money.”

Head women’s soccer coach and assistant track coach Moira Ruhly says that although the women’s soccer team splurged on a “top-of-the-line Adidas warm-up suit for each player,” the squad has had to make sacrifices on other levels, such as eating at Downer after an away game if the team could return to campus on time.

Says Ruhly, “I think it’s important to be frugal in some areas and prioritize what we need for the squad.”

Soccer teams have felt the sting of budget cuts in other ways, the biggest change being in transportation. This year, the men’s and women’s soccer teams shared a bus whenever they traveled. In some cases, as in the trip to and from Grinnell, this meant eight hours with 53 people on a bus with capacity for 55.

Women’s soccer player Jaime Nodarse said, “We handled the situation without many complaints. My only problem will be if other teams, such as men’s and women’s basketball, are allowed and budgeted money for two buses, one for each team. This is unfair in my eyes to men’s and women’s soccer players.”

Tatro stresses that differences in team budgets are calculated to create equity. “To an outsider or someone not knowing all the facts, it may appear that there are inequities, when in reality, there are different ways to cover the deficit involved.”

According to Tatro, Lawrence does not fully fund any of the trips. The difference is in how individual coaches and teams cover the deficit. These solutions include fundraisers, team frugality, and student contributions.

For example, this year, part of the travel expenses for the men’s basketball team were covered by a 40-team high school tournament held during the summer.

The problem, says Tatro, lies in the differences between teams. Because of the different needs and expenses of each team, Tatro says, “distributing the funds equally would not provide equity in this case.”

Some teams, such as the football, are equipment intensive, and require huge supply budgets. Ice hockey requires an “astronomical” ice rental fee that other teams do not incur.

The cultures of different sports also play a role in budgeting and travel decisions. “In the sport of basketball, for example, you would be hard-pressed to find a college that didn’t take some sort of trip,” Tatro explains. “In other sports, like wrestling, Lawrence might be one of the few schools who engage in this type of activity. Right or wrong, this is simply the culture of college athletics today.”

For teams like the baseball and softball teams, spring break trips are a necessity, since the teams play up to one-third of their games of the season during a spring break trip. Says Tatro, “Without a trip to a warm climate, these games in the last month of March would not be possible.”

Ruhly adds, “Since we don’t have an indoor track, training outside through January, February and March is extremely difficult, so getting to a warmer training climate is very important, but not a necessity.”

For other sports, the trips affect the team dynamic, recruitment and competitiveness. Coaches can better recruit potential athletes when they can offer travel as a part of the Lawrence athletics experience. Students are also able to bond as a team and experience competitive play against top academic institutions across the nation.

Student athletes, like Chris Perry, a swimmer, find the athletic trips to be “without a doubt the most fulfilling part of the season in many aspects.”

Tatro confirms that student trips are in the university’s best interests, concluding, “It would be a competitive disadvantage for Lawrence University if these trips did not exist. It would hurt our institution from a recruiting aspect and take away a positive experience.”

It is important to bear in mind that fall sports are also treated as equitably as possible, although fall sports do not traditionally travel for great distances or for extended periods of time. The biggest budgeted expense in this case lies not in travel, but in the housing and food costs for an extra month on campus before the fall term begins.

However, Tatro notes that, despite the enormous cost of housing and feeding the fall athletes each year, the athletics department has made strides in recent years to allow travel for fall sports. In the fall of 2003, the women’s volleyball team traveled to California, and this past fall the men’s soccer team competed in several games in Washington. Both trips were supported by summer camps.

The athletics committee at Lawrence is currently in the process of reviewing the intercollegiate varsity sports and recreation programs, in order to create a plan to address concerns about budget inequity. The completion of this review is slated for the end of Term I at the earliest.

Meanwhile, several teams face inconveniences and a lack of opportunities.

Says Loehnis, “This campus’s view of athletics isn’t the highest, which is unfortunate, because I feel that athletics (being active and competing) is a necessary element for the overall college experience. It kind of sucks that at the collegiate level, our team budget can’t afford a trip for the players.