Of all the PSAC championship competitions that I’ve had the honor to attend, this one may stand out amongst the rest for reasons that have nothing to do with athleticism. Don’t get me wrong, there were some special performances: a men’s 3,200 meter run that ended in an actual dive across the finish line, and a women’s high jump event that had nearly half the building looking on. But on this day, “SaveHaven” was the theme, the thesis, and what trumped everything else that happened.
There have been rumors (unfortunately at this time, that’s all we can really call them) in regards to the possible removal of the men’s track and field program and women’s swimming program at Lock Haven University. Two separate Facebook groups have been formed, one of which supports the swimming program with 650 people joining its ranks, as well as a track and field page that’s recruited a whopping 2,200 count.
It doesn’t stop there either. Silent protests have been formed and even Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo made an effort to support the cause when he recently posted a photo to his Instagram.
When contacted, Lock Haven University’s Doug Spatafor responded to multiple questions regarding the two programs’ longevity at the school with: “Lock Haven University is currently reviewing the structure of our athletic department. Internal discussions are ongoing. Any changes which may occur as a result of these discussions will be announced as soon as they are finalized. We anticipate a formal announcement prior to the end of the Spring 2017 semester. Updates will be provided as they are available. LHU has no further comment at this time.”
It is understandable that at a time when decisions have not been made and more is left up for discussion, there is no need to release information to the public that may not be true. But the question has to be raised, why the secrecy? There is obvious fear instilled in the individuals who are a part of these programs in terms of losing their jobs and athletic careers.
In an attempt to contact the school’s athletic director, a response was not given in regards to anything whatsoever. There has been no official announcement or confirmation of possible cuts at the University of Lock Haven from any administrative members.
According to sources, only half the track and field team is currently at risk (men) while the other (women) is not.
Alumnus of the track and field program and 800-meter national champion Matt Sauls is one of the active promoters of the petition on Facebook and spoke to me about the secrecy in which everything is currently being approached. (This has been subject to slight change in the past week, as seen from our interview with head coach of the men’s track and field program Aaron Russell later in this article).
“I’m not sure why they can’t speak about it. I’m sure there’s a lot more to it that I’m not aware of, but from what I’ve seen, it seems like enrollment has been down quite a bit, so I’m sure the budget is being looked at; why they’re looking at those teams, I don’t know.” Sauls’ continued emphasizing the fact that the track and field program at Lock Haven is one of the cheapest programs per athlete in the athletic department. And Sauls isn’t wrong, at least in regards to the official NCAA Division II Intercollegiate Athletics Programs Report.
Note: These are not Lock Haven statistics and are not correlated to the program’s current economic status. These are averages throughout the entire NCAA from athletic departments with football programs.
According to the report, in the fiscal year of 2014, these sports lost more money than track and field and cross country programs combined; baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse, soccer, swimming (by $300), volleyball, and wrestling. Granted, some of these programs do not exist at specific universities throughout the country, but there is financial truth to Sauls’ statement.
The average NCAA division II football program loses on average, $1,166,700 dollars per year. An average generated revenue of $127,700 coupled with an average expense total of $1,294,400 gives us that number for a net loss. Needless to say, according to this report, there is not one single division II sport that creates a profit, on average, according to the NCAA. So of course there is truth to the fact that cutting a program like women’s swimming or men’s track would help balance the budget.
It is important to note as well that expenses produced by track and field and cross country were molded into one single category in the eyes of the NCAA, when in fact they’re obviously separate. Where other sports only compete for a single season — fall, winter, or spring — the category of cross country and track and field could compete for an entire year, with both similar and different athletes on each respected roster.
All these averages represent the programs themselves and not the schools as a whole. But universities and athletic programs work as one. Recruitment represents a consistent source of student enrollment, through both positive and negative trends in student population, so in a roundabout way, these programs bring universities like Lock Haven more profit than is shown in terms of athletes paying tuition and staying in the program for the entirety of their athletic and academic ventures.
“The process has been that the school submitted a proposal in the middle of January. And they gave us (the coaches) 30 days to come back with another proposal,” Russell said.
This is an opportunity they ran with, no pun intended. They would formulate what they called a “points for consideration” on which they presented ideas, based off research they felt would help administration find money in the budget to keep the program around.
“In the points for consideration, we identified the problem that was identified to us when their proposal was submitted, which was decreasing enrollment and the financial situation that caused,” Russell said.
From an administration perspective, the focus needs to be set on long term goals, potential losses in the budget that are avoidable, rather than immediate economic impact.
Sauls talked of the economics, stating: “The expenses are still gonna be going on, so I don’t know that they would be saving much by just cutting the men’s team. A majority of the expenses would still have to go out for just the women’s team, so if it’s an overnight, which I don’t think they do many of, then maybe hotel expenses are a little less...but overall just having to get the bus and go there, a lot of the expenses are still going to be there.”
In all, the “points for considerations” consisted of suggestions including the addition of more sports teams to draw more students, marching band investments, increase in the student activity fee, self-funding road trips, and even decreased roster size. Russell first touched on the possibility of bringing in more programs rather then decreasing. Research that branched out to 10-12 other programs similar to Lock Haven found signs of increase enrollment by adding sports.
He followed that with a study in regards to Mercyhurst University’s recent increased investment and commitment to their marching band.
“From 2012-2017, (they) went from 15 members in their band to 73 and they had to cut some beyond that.” Russell felt that with just a small increase in the budget for a program like Lock Haven’s, upward to 50 new students could come to the school in the next few years.
Under title IX guidelines, there is stipulations that must be followed in terms of equal spending and equal opportunity for both men and women, when the opportunity is plausible. This situation may be as such.
“We also put forward (the idea) to decrease the track and field roster from 35 to 25 for indoor and outdoor. So essentially saving 20 roster numbers on the men’s side, which decreases the budget, but also addresses a third issue that was not a problem identified as a reason for cutting sports, which is maintaining title IX compliance.
Russell continued: “So dropping 20 men from our indoor, outdoor track rosters combined essentially is the equivalent of a men’s team being taken out of the equation. So it helps with any future issues that might come about due to title IX.”
Russell’s former athlete Sauls added, “Since the proposal was announced, I’ve been constantly contacted by nearly 20 people an hour. They want to do everything they can to save the program since it’s been such a huge part of our lives.” He continued: “They are one of the top academic programs in the athletic department too... they’ve received community service awards the past few years. It’s a pretty well rounded program.”
Russell added that this past year, the team won the community leadership award at an ESPY’s-like event put together by the athletic department. Not only that but his programs have consistently been highly respected in terms of academic success. “It’s obviously been a very difficult last month dealing with the issue, but at the same time, a lot of places line-up and just tell you you’re gone and there’s no talk about it so we appreciate the opportunity,” Russell said.
It all culminated for Russell and his team this past weekend at the PSAC Championships here in Edinboro where upon the meets end, teams joined in a show of continuity amongst the PSAC as they circled the track with signs as they chanted together. “The support at Edinboro this past weekend was amazing. Our video clip (of the end of the meet) is already over 56,000 views so it’s pretty crazy the response.”
He continued: “All weekend, people were wearing Lock Haven shirts, offering so much additional support to our student athletes. It was overwhelming at times, but our men’s team really rose to the occasion despite the odds.”
The "SaveHaven" campaign currently has 2,161 signatures in a 5,000 signature campaign on Change.org. You can sign here.
Michael Lantinen is the sports editor for The Spectator. He can be reached at email@example.com.