Last spring, University of the Fraser Valley volleyball coaches Greg Russell and Dennis Bokenfohr were called in for a meeting with athletic director Rick Nickelchok, where they were informed that their programs – along with men’s golf and rowing – were on the verge of being eliminated.
What’s more, they discovered their programs had been on the chopping block for the previous two years as well, due to budgetary limitations.
“It was quite a shock to me,” said Russell, who coaches the Cascades men’s volleyball squad. “I had recruited a whole bunch of kids from the U18 team that I also coach, and lo and behold, there might not be a program at all.
“It’s the commitment I made to kids and parents that I was really concerned about.”
Russell met with Karola Stinson, UFV’s vice president external who oversees the athletic department, and appealed for funds to keep the programs afloat. Last-minute funding was secured to cover the 2011-12 season, but the teams’ future beyond that is up in the air.
Stinson explained that the athletic department budget only covers UFV’s four flagship Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) programs – men’s and women’s basketball and soccer. Money for the non-CIS teams has been scraped together from unallocated funds after the university’s budgeting process is complete.
“The fact that we’ve always managed to find money in the past and save them for another year speaks to the fact that we value their contribution to university life,” Stinson said.
“I’m hoping we can do it again, but I don’t know if we can. But if the worst should happen, it has nothing to do with the value or the contribution to the university. Hopefully, magically, we will be able to do it again.”
Russell has pitched several measures to ensure ongoing funding, including a student fee for athletics.
“These programs have been very successful,” noted Russell, who said it costs about $100,000 to run the two college volleyball teams. “When I was hired on and the university was moving towards university status, I thought more of the teams would be going towards the CIS, where soccer and basketball compete. But we seem to be going the other way, cutting back, and that seems contradictory to the whole university status movement.”
UFV announced two weeks ago that Nickelchok had resigned his post as athletic director; Nickelchok and Stinson both declined comment on the circumstances of his departure. Chris Bertram, head of UFV’s kinesiology and physical education department and the coach of the Cascades men’s golf team, is serving as interim athletic director.
The funding issues are a source of tension within the department.
“I’m exposed to it enough to know it’s very stressful for people,” said Russell, noting that his time on campus is limited since he’s not a full-time coach. “As soon as these funding issues come up, then people tend to fight over what’s left over.
“But I’ve seen this in business. If there are cutbacks to a product line or to a department, it’s never the same anymore. It’s not perceived the same, it doesn’t have the same status in the organization. There tend to be more cuts after that if it’s allowed to happen.”
The athletic department’s fiscal quandary is an extension of the challenge facing the university at large – decreasing funding, increasing demand. UFV enrolled more than 16,000 students last year, accepting 104 per cent of the admissions it received provincial funding for. The number of wait-listed students soared to 5,800 this fall, 21 per cent higher than last year.
“Hopefully by early spring we’ll be in a better position to know,” Stinson said, speaking of the fate of volleyball, golf and rowing. “We don’t anticipate any new revenue, and we’re trying to do more with less.”