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UWRF drops swimming and diving

UW-River Falls has announced it will suspend its intercollegiate men’s and women’s diving teams effective June 30 following a recommendation by the UWRF Faculty Senate Athletic Committee.

According to a statement released by the university April 30, the decision was based on a study of the athletics sports module that included information from the UWRF Faculty Senate Athletic Committee, the Athletic Department, staff, students and alumni.

The recommendation to suspend the swimming and diving teams was made by UWRF Athletic Director Roger Ternes and further recommended by the UWRF Faculty Senate Athletic Committee by a vote of 7-3. Chancellor Dean Van Galen made the announcement to the university community April 29.

Van Galen noted that the decision to suspend the sport was based on a comprehensive analysis of a number of considerations. “However, there is no doubt that financial pressures placed on the university because of a reduction in state support for higher education and a two-year tuition freeze have played a role in this process,” he said.

The UWRF Athletic Department is facing a $48,500 budget reduction in the 2014-15 academic year, part of a $1.7 million budget reduction by the university mandated by UW-System cutbacks effective July 1, 2014.

“In order to preserve a minimal level of financial stability within the intercollegiate athletics program, regrettable decisions had to be made,” Ternes said. “This unfortunate action is a causality of UWRF overreaching in trying to operate an athletics program beyond its facility and financial resources.”

The total budgeted expenses for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams for 2013-14 was $56,366.54. The expenses included items like travel, lodging at away meets, team meals while traveling, salaries and pool rental for practices and home meets.

In making its recommendation, the UWRF Faculty Senate Athletic Committee addressed eight considerations for suspending or terminating a varsity sport, including Title IX impact, adequate facilities, and competitive participation.

The committee found that suspending a sport that equally impacts both male and female student athletes does not have an adverse effect on Title IX compliance.

The UWRF Karges Center pool was closed in 2010 due to the cost of the almost annual repairing of the facility that was built in 1959. Since then the university has rented the River Falls High School pool for practices and home meets. Plans for the $63.5 million Falcon Center on campus, which is scheduled to open in early 2017, do not include a pool.

The committee report also noted both teams have consistently finished at, or near the bottom in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC). The women’s team has finished last in the WIAC ten straight years while the men have finished last nine out of 10. UWRF swim teams have finished last or second to last in the WIAC championship meet 40 of the last 46 years.

The Falcon swimming and diving program was nearly suspended last fall when it found itself without a head coach following the abrupt resignation of Ryan Hawke after two years on the job. Two coaching candidates turned down the position before Mike Bollinger was hired three weeks before the start of the 2013-14 season.

Last week’s decision leaves the WIAC with five intercollegiate swim programs—Oshkosh, Whitewater, Eau Claire, La Crosse and Stevens Point.

UWRF has had a men’s swimming and diving team since the 1960-61 academic year and a women’s team since 1975-76. In 2013-14 there were 17 men and 14 women listed on the swimming and diving seasons of participation and competition report. 

“I understand that this decision will be difficult and disappointing, especially to our swimming and diving team,” Van Galen said. “No one has questioned the fundamental value of swimming and diving, or the passion that our student-athletes and others have for their sport. And, I know that I speak for many when I express a high level of respect for the way that members of our swimming and diving team have conducted themselves throughout this process.”

The last time the UWRF Athletics Department sport module was changed was in the 2002-03 school year. That year the wrestling, baseball and women’s gymnastics teams were dropped while the sports of men’s indoor and outdoor track and field, and women’s golf were added. 

UWRF now has 16 varsity sports including: soccer, golf, tennis, cross country, volleyball, basketball, hockey, indoor track and field, outdoor track and field, and softball for women and football, cross country, basketball, hockey, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field for men. 

Four hundred and fifty-nine student-athletes (204 women, 253 men) competed on the 18 intercollegiate sports during the 2013-14 school year.

Bob Burrows

Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.

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