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Cuts alone not enough for UVM




The first step is taken. The hard part is next.

The University of Vermont finally made its move Thursday, eliminating five varsity sports from its roster. Come next fall, the men's and women's gymnastics, men's indoor and outdoor track and women's volleyball teams no longer will be a part of the UVM experience.

Rick Farnham, the school's director of athletics, delivered the bad news to three head coaches and the 60 or so athletes involved in brief team meetings Thursday afternoon.

To suggest these moves are insignificant would not be fair to Gary Bruening, the gymnastics coach who has given "15 hard years" to the school.

To say five sports aren't enough isn't fair to junior Mike Dimick, a third-generation Catamounts runner whose father, John, is a UVM Hall of Famer.

To submit the argument this won't make much of a difference isn't right if you're Ed Kusiak, the man who Thursday had to apologize to 10 freshmen who planned to compete in track and field the next four years.

Still, these moves are insignificant. Five sports aren't enough. This won't make much of a difference. Not unless UVM delivers on the rest of the plan.

The idea was to cut and consolidate; to do less but do it better. Athletics' threadbare budget needed to be $350,000 lighter, and rather than cutting a swath through the whole 27-sport athletic program, the cuts would come at the expense of the low-profile teams. Those teams that remained were to benefit from those left behind.

But what the school wound up cutting won't help the hockey team make it to Lake Placid every March, nor help the ski team get over the hump at the NCAAs. The approximate $100,000 the athletic budget will save each year will not enhance the top teams at the university. Farnham and company said as much Thursday.

"How would it? How would it help them win more?" Farnham asked.

"The one thing we hoped we might accomplish was to really create a significant investment in our top-tier sports," said David Nestor, interim vice president of student affairs and Farnham's boss. "This step allows some reinvestment, but not to the degree we need to."

As difficult as telling Bruening and Kusiak and dozens of student-athletes was for Farnham -- and it was difficult for the man, given he had the same speech delivered to him 27 years ago as a UVM football coach -- the real work begins today. If the Cats are going to raise their athletic profile, thus raising the profile as an institution as a whole, they must follow through.

Tom Crowley, the school's new assistant athletic director for development, needs to show us the money. The school's forthcoming capital campaign must make athletics a priority.

"If we end right here, it may not mean very much at all," Nestor said. "It's the first step of many steps that need to take place."

"We're not done," Farnham said. "We can't be."

Five teams are done. The Rick Gouse coaching era in women's volleyball is over after two seasons. Kusiak will coach a women's track program whose "heart and soul was ripped out today" with the elimination of the men's team.

"Yeah, I've got one more year," said Jason Morris, captain of the gymnastics team. "But it's like someone telling me, 'Jason, you're going to get in a car accident tomorrow; you've got one day to live.' Even though we've got another year, everything's different now."

Patrick Garrity is the Free Press Assistant Sports Editor. If you have a comment, please call 660-1868 or e-mail him at pgarrity@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com. For past columns see www.burlingtonfreepress.com.


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