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UVM cuts five varsity sports


By Matt Crawford

Free Press Staff Writer

The University of Vermont announced Thursday that five varsity sports programs are being eliminated at the end of the 2001-02 academic year.

The cuts are expected to save at least $100,000 in the school's thinly stretched athletic budget.

The five sports cut are men's and women's gymnastics, women's volleyball, men's indoor track and men's outdoor track. Athletes and coaches involved were told of the university's decision in afternoon meetings with athletic director Rick Farnham.

"There was no one program that deserved to be cut more than any other," Farnham said. "I do know that as the manager of the athletic program at the University of Vermont there is a need for change."

Two part-time head coaches, three part-time assistant coaches and some 60 athletes will lose their positions as a result of the cuts.

Head track coach Ed Kusiak will remain with UVM, coaching cross country and women's track.

"It's a very disappointing day," Kusiak said. "What bothers me most is the fact that after 34 years of really loyal service at the University of Vermont, they didn't even give me the courtesy to get up in front of the people who are making the decisions and defend what I've been trying to do."

The men's indoor track program began in 1969; outdoor track, in 1970.

Athletes of the affected teams bristled at the school's decision.

"I feel kind of cheated," senior gymnast Jason Morris said. "I'm upset because I feel this is unjustified. I haven't heard any reason why we would be cut. If it really was a move for financial reasons, I think they could have gone about it in a lot of different ways."

Senior runner George Deane said members of the men's track team were stunned by the announcement.

"All of the freshmen on the team, I advised them to transfer today if they had any love of running," Deane said.

Gymnastics coach Gary Bruening was prepared for the news.

"I've been here 15 years and during that entire time there has always been an undercurrent of, 'Do we have too many sports? Do we need to drop some?'" Bruening said. "You don't drop the sports you really value, and I've never been able to garner the value of the people making these decisions."

The five jettisoned sports will save UVM only minimal amounts of money. None of the five sports had a full-time coach, none offered scholarships and all had minimal operating expenses.

"It's not a huge amount of dollars," said David Nestor, interim vice president of student affairs. UVM will still offer 22 varsity sports when the cuts take place, higher than the America East conference average of 19.

Men's and women's swimming, men's and women's tennis, field hockey and golf are among the sports UVM will continue to offer.

"I was surprised at how few teams were cut, actually," said gymnastics captain Allyson Schneider.

"I'm amazed that some of the other teams didn't get cut and we did," added Deane.

School administrators ordered the UVM athletic department to chop $350,000 from its $5.6 million budget. The cuts will eliminate about $53,000 in coaching salaries and at least $50,000 in game-day operating expenses each year. The athletic budget was trimmed earlier this year when nine employees accepted an early retirement package that takes effect July 2003. The buyout, which Kusiak has accepted, eliminated $322,654 from the athletic budget.

UVM said the sports were cut after being assessed by several criteria: the program's impact on enrollment, the competitive level of success, the level of interest generated, potential for future growth, the level of financial resources and the program's contribution to academic quality.

The dropping of five sports comes concurrently with UVM's decision to emphasize winning by its high-profile teams. Thursday's cuts will not translate to significantly more support for the school's most visible sports.

"How would this help the teams that remain win more?" asked Farnham, who said additional changes were in store. "This Part One of some other things that need to happen. We're not done. We can't be."

Nestor, who had hinted in August that six or more sports would be chopped, said some programs were spared because additional funding might be produced in the school's upcoming capital campaign.

"We've considered a lot of different options beyond what the final decision was."

Free Press staff writers Hillary Read, Patrick Garrity and Candance Page contributed to this report. To contact Matt Crawford call 651-4852 or mcrawfor@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com