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Student Gov. questions athletic director about recent athletic cuts

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St. Cloud State athletic director Heather Weems spoke with the Student Government Thursday about the six athletic programs that were recently cut. Weems opened by walking the council through the department’s decision making process about the cuts themselves and how to inform those whom the decision affected.

The cuts have been a point of concern for some on Student Government, specifically about the council not having been included in the decision to cut the programs. Senator Laura Gross reflected these concerns in her opening question, the first of the meeting.

Sen. Laura Gross: “Why wasn’t Student Government involved or notified in these issues or the possible cuts to full athletic teams?”

Weems: If you know our business, you will know everything in it is very public. I was not here five years ago, but five years ago we went through conversations about actually dropping football.

My understanding is that it turned into a community melee… That had to be a decision made by the university, not the court of public opinion. Athletics is a place where you can’t contain information. Rumors spread, people get hurt very easily, and it is very damaging not just to our program but to the university as a whole.

Sen. Laura Gross: Are there plans to make further reductions over the next few years?

Weems: We need to grow and sustain stability in our enrollment. We need to continue along that path. We need to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to take care of our business… It’s going to depend a lot on enrollment. Nationally, this is happening at a lot of institutions. The athletic environment is really fragile right now.

I don’t think the university is going to look to have us cut any more additional sports in the short term.

 Sen. Andrea Bryson: Is there we can do as students and as a community to prevent this from happening again?

Weems: Yes. The things that are going to help the most, alumni engagement. We have a 2 to 3 percent alumni giving rate – that’s dismal… We need to engage students so they talk about giving. That’s something that public schools have been really bad at… We need our students on campus to be engaged.

Sen. Laura Gross: Do you think it would have been even better to let the coaches know more than 15 minutes before the athletes? Just because they’ve a part of our university for some time… It just seems like a respect thing.

Weems: 15 minutes probably ended up being too short. 30 minutes would have been better… That Wednesday was really hard. I haven’t been literally sick like that announcement since I was in high school. What that Wednesday morning did, though, was it took a load off my shoulders. I pride myself on being pretty straightforward and honest and obviously I knew what the plan was prior to the coaches, and I felt very deceitful.

Good, bad, right or wrong, I felt it was really important that [coaches] hear it from me, straight from the president, straight from the administration of the university… I hope this is something I won’t be practicing again.

Sen. Madie McLeod: I’m wondering how $250,000 makes a cut in the debt when the university is millions on dollars in debt? It seems like such a small number.

The university expects to save $250,000 by eliminating the six programs.

Weems: I’m not going to disagree that it’s a small number. When you’re trying to divide it amongst all sorts of sports, any number helps and I will term this as the best of bad options.

Sen. Andrea Bryson: In a perfect world, if things turned around a little bit, do you think we’d ever reinstate programs?

Weems: There’s changing interest in sports, to be honest. We as higher education institutions are like a big boat – we don’t turn very quickly. I would suggest that if we are in a place with stronger financials, we would look at the best portfolio that we might be able to offer.

Weems explained that this means looking at developing sports programs that the department thinks will be popular with students and the community. Such programs might be men’s soccer, and men’s and women’s lacrosse, which Weems said is the fastest growing sports in the country.

Sen. Laura Gross: I work in the office of admissions and within the same day the announcement was made, I got a call from a father asking what his son should do. He was a recruit planning on coming to St. Cloud to participate on the track team. They felt very lost. Do you have any programs or any support for those families?

Our coaches were the main contact because they know the students the best. Sam Kettenhoffen has done a fantastic job with Track & Field. He has called all of those people and talked to them individually. He has called other track teams to let them know of their skills… In the cases where the students decide to stay here, we will honor their scholarships.

According to Weems, there have been a number of athletic department staff available to counsel students and families, and answer any questions they have.

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