For Chelsea Dobson, a fourth-year in art at Ohio State’s Newark campus, basketball games are a time for the campus to get together and share in one experience of fandom.
“The main sport that I feel like gets the most attention is the basketball team. Usually, those are the best crowds,” said Dobson, who works as a student athletic assistant at OSU-Newark. “They will cheer, they yell crazy things when we have the ball and things like that.”
But students at OSU-Newark will not get the chance to cheer on their team next year after it was announced on April 10 that varsity sports will no longer be offered beginning in the fall, because of budget reduction initiatives by the school.
The school announced the decision as part of an email sent out to faculty and staff that said, as part of the budget planning for fiscal year 2016, the varsity athletic teams will be discontinued, effective June 30.
OSU-Newark offers six varsity sports: women’s volleyball, women’s basketball, softball, men’s basketball, baseball and golf. The sports teams compete in the Ohio Regional Campus Conference, which is an “independent sports organization that serves the regional campuses of Ohio,” according to the email.
The school’s recreational and intramural sports will continue on campus, the email said.
William MacDonald, dean and director of OSU-Newark, said he understands the impact this decision will have on both student-athletes and the general student population.
“It certainly will have an impact on them and I have talked to several of them,” he said. “I had a meeting with our student government and students they invited. Several athletes attended and they made a very well-reasoned argument as to how athletics can benefit students.”
During the 2014-15 academic year, OSU-Newark had 70 student-athletes involved in the school’s athletic teams, said Holly Mason, director of student life at OSU-Newark.
“Depending on the year and student interest, we typically have 70 – 100 student-athletes competing in varsity athletics in the course of an academic year,” Mason said in an email.
MacDonald said the decision to cut varsity sports is part of one set of cuts that have been proposed to balance the budgets for both OSU-Newark and the Central Ohio Technical College, which shares the campus.
The budget reduction plans are a necessity because of several economic factors related to the cost of tuition, MacDonald added.
“Part of the budget that we built this year (was) based on the assumption that we would have a 2 percent tuition increase, but of course, we didn’t increase tuition by 2 percent,” he said. “The university plugged that hole for all units. And so that helped us this year, so looking to next year, that was one-time money that is going to go away, so we have to cover that gap.”
In addition to this expense, which MacDonald said is approximately $290,000, another cost the school has to plan for is caused by the fact that fewer students are enrolling at COTC and that enrollment at OSU-Newark is predicted to remain relatively stagnant.
“(COTC’s) enrollment has declined a little bit, our share of expenses will increase because our proportion of the student body is going to increase,” he said. “And then we have all of the uncertainty of the subsidies and tuition. We are not expecting growth in enrollment, at least not in the next couple of years. And so we won’t be seeing new revenue there.”
MacDonald said the school has taken precautionary measures by reducing the budget so that these impending costs will be covered in the upcoming years. In total, he said, the school is looking to offset approximately $915,000 in possible expenses with cuts.
“It’s conservative, but we have to balance the budget, so that is why we are setting that target,” he said.
Although he said it is hard to decide what to cut, MacDonald added that he thinks the cuts the school is making are the ones necessary to preserve the services students need the most.
“I would argue that right now, there are other things that we have wanted to do, but haven’t been able to do and probably won’t be able to do until we are able to get through this period of budget pressure,” he said. “If we were, let’s say three or four years from now, we had some sort of boost to our revenue, we know there are things that we want to do that we think will improve student success. Things like expanding our first-generation student learning community (or) providing more scholarships.
“Those kind of things would all take priority over varsity athletics.”
But it is not just athletics that are on the expenditure chopping block for next year. Other budget cuts announced in the Friday email include the restructuring of the Office of Student Life and the Office of Financial Aid, changes in the hours of operation of the Warner Library, the elimination of at least eight univeristy positions and the discontinuation of large-scale food events such as the fall welcome lunch, spring picnic and holiday reception.
Dobson said students were surprised and disappointed upon hearing of these expected cuts, especially the elimination of varsity sports.
“General student reaction has just been complete shock, especially with the student-athletes,” she said. “We had no idea that it was even up in the air. It was extremely shocking, just because there was no prior knowledge. It makes it even harder and it is really sad, especially because we felt like this coming year was going to be our year for sports.”
Mason said discussions and planning are “currently taking place,” and the school is looking into ways to increase options for recreational and intramural sports, as well as other student organizations
“Budget cuts are extremely difficult to endure,” she said. “My heart goes out to our student-athletes, our staff – both administrative and coaching and all that have participated in or been an influence to our program.”
MacDonald said even though he understands why students are upset, he hopes they will continue to find ways to be involved in the campus community.
“I am hoping that they will realize the value of an Ohio State degree and stick with it, even though they won’t have that opportunity to play varsity sports,” he said. “In the scheme of things, of course, we are looking at preserving the things that are most vital to student success. And in the scheme of things, varsity sports are just not that closely connected to the core of our mission.”