BRITISH COLUMBIA

University of British Columbia to announce future of varsity teams soon

11/26/2013 05:50 EST | Updated 01/26/2014 05:59 EST
VANCOUVER - Varsity athletes and coaches at the University of British Columbia can expect to learn the fate of their respective sports teams early in the new year.

UBC's sport review advisory team is in the midst of examining the school's athletics department, with the university bumping up an announcement on which programs will be demoted to second-tier club status from the spring to Jan. 15 at the latest.

"This review is vital to the future health of UBC athletics," UBC president Stephen Toope said Tuesday at a press conference on campus. "The university simply cannot sustain excellence for 29 varsity teams into the future on our current or projected budget."

UBC teams are being graded on a number of criteria set out by the university, including success in competition, coaching strength, history, alumni support and even attendance.

Each team is being asked to produce a statement as why it does or does not meet the standards.

"The primary goal of the sports review is to sharpen the focus on high-performance excellence," Toope said of the plan that has been compared to the Canadian Olympic Committee's Own the Podium Program, which directs funding to athletes with the greatest chance of success.

Teams that are slated to lose varsity status will have a chance to appeal and will also be given an opportunity to figure out alternate funding arrangements, Toope said.

Full-time UBC students are each charged an annual fee of about $200, which goes towards sports and recreation. The athletics budget currently sits at about $6 million.

"No funds are being taken from the athletics department budget," said Toope, who also announced that two sports alumni members would be added to the review advisory team. "We are talking about using these funds in a more effective way so our student athletes benefit fully from their experience here."

News of the sport review has garnered strong opposition from some alumni and current donors, with many concerned that the football and hockey teams could be unfairly targeted for their high cost and lack of recent success.

Toope said the review does not have a bias towards any one sport.

"No decisions on placement of teams have been made, either as to how many sports may remain at the varsity level, nor as to which sports will be at the varsity level," he said. "There is no secret agenda, and there are no pre-determined outcomes."

Toope added that while no teams are fighting for survival, programs that are demoted to club status will receive less funding from the university.

Derek Swain, a UBC alumni member, said the process that the university has undertaken is flawed.

"We just don't know what teams are going to be cut, and I don't see any justification for cutting any of them. That's the problem," said Swain. "There could have been a quiet review done much earlier, which would have simply said, 'We need more money to support certain teams. What can we do? How can we be helpful in that process?'"

There has been heavy criticism of the sport review advisory team by certain members of the Vancouver media.

Largely composed of women, the team includes UBC vice-president of students Louise Cowin, who oversees the school's athletics department and has been one of the main targets.

Toope, who is set to step down from his post at UBC in June, said some of the commentary has been unfair.

"There have been comments made, personalization of this issue, that I think is wholly inappropriate," said Toope, who is set to step down from his post at UBC in June. "I'm not sure it would have happened if there had been a different cast of characters."