UNO Athletics; The Students Have Spoken!
The University of New Orleans (UNO) Student-Athletes have had a rough couple of years. First, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the campus and athletic facilities. The result was the suspension of 9 athletic teams and decreased student enrollment. UNO Enrollment has still not recovered to pre-Katrina levels which has severely reduced the athletics funding available from student fees. This, plus recent State budget cuts (athletics share was going to be appprox. $1.5mil) have stressed the finances of the athletics department in a big way. Now, last week UNO students voted “NO” to an increase in student fees to keep athletics functioning.
The result of the “NO” vote by students will likely be the elimination of the entire athletics program. Only if the State Legislature steps in to help (or a major private donor) can the program be saved at this point.
The vote asked students for a $96 increase per semester earmarked to support athletics. Student opposed the increase 1,418-1,251 (53%-47%). According to NewOrleans.com, UNO’s student population was 11,428 for the fall semester of 2008, meaning that only 23 percent of the students voted. It is sad to think that with only 23% of the students expressing their feelings, athletics will probably be eliminated completely.
UNO is also it the 4th year of a 5 year waiver granted by the NCAA to allow them to retain Division I status without the minimum number of teams. After Hurricane Katrina, the University suspended 9 of their 15 teams, but had done some research into a plan to reintroduce the suspended teams. They had already reintroduced 3 of the originally suspended teams. The SunBelt Conference requires 15 teams, so UNO remains 6 shy of meeting the NCAA and SunBelt requirements. In all, UNO is currently supporting 150 student-athletes on their rosters.
It is extremely rare to put this type of important funding decision in the hands of students. On one hand, it is nice to see an institution trust their students enough to give them some power to decide what should be funded on campus. On the other hand, at a mostly commuter school it seems fairly obvious that an increase like this would fail and that turnout would be low. Commuter schools generally have less athletic support since students do not live on campus and are not around to experience athletics on weekends. So, the question I have is “Was this a way to eliminate athletics without having the blame fall on the administration?”
For an institution that is 6 teams shy of minimum requirements and in dire financial straights, there was going to be long road ahead just to earn full Division I and SunBelt membership, let alone be successful. At this point, EVERYONE can blame the students for voting down the measure and the University administration can say, “we left it to the students.” With all the bad press institutions are receiving for cutting teams, will UNO avoid the negativity because the students voted?
Now all the power falls to the State Legislature. I believe having the State step in to save an athletics program is dangerous territory. I am never in favor of eliminating opportunities for students to participate in intercollegiate athletics, but the State should not be there to solve problems in higher education – unless it does so regularly in other academic areas. The State creates funding models and priorities for higher education and the institutions should decide from there how to allocate their resources. Louisiana is a bit different in that there is (or was when I worked at Southeastern Louisiana University) a “cap” of how much State support can go towards athletics. So, if the State Legislature does not step in, they are added to those to blame and now it is all the fault of UNO Students and the State.
If UNO eliminates athletics, it will be a sad day for the current and former student-athletes who learned so much from their experience representing UNO. Until the State acts, the coaches have no chance to recruit, schedule games, or keep young members of their teams from transferring. It is a terrible situation for all invovled and too bad that there is no educational information on the athletics website of UNO, nor is there any meniton of the vote and its implication on the Official UNO Athletics Blog.
One idea that seems to be noticeably missing from all the media surrounding this vote is the possibility of retaining athletics, just not at the Division I level. What is wrong with a DII or DIII program?