When DAPER announced that budget cuts would require the elimination of one or more varsity programs, the department showed great respect for students by informing them early in the process. This respect was not reciprocated by students and other members of the MIT community who have spent the last few weeks insulting administrators, insisting that this decision must have been made hastily, and demanding that the department reconsider. While DAPER is listening with open ears, students claim they are being unheard much like a bratty sixteen-year-old demanding a Ferrari when given an Acura. As a student body, we need to appreciate the incredible opportunities that we will still have without complaining about what we can no longer afford.
Intercollegiate sports provide students with an athletic challenge to complement their already challenging schoolwork, but sports are just a part of MIT life, and they should not be valued above academics. Part of the NCAA Division III philosophy is to, “Assure that athletics programs support the institution’s educational mission by financing, staffing and controlling the programs through the same general procedures as other departments of the institution.” It is the duty of the MIT administration to charge athletics with the same 15% budget cut as other departments, and it would be inappropriate for DAPER to accept any other treatment.
MIT’s ability to support 41 varsity teams for the past decade has not come easily. The department has always operated on a tight budget, ensuring the best services to all members at the lowest cost to students while maximizing revenue from paid memberships and facility rentals. Alumni support has been able to make up the deficit in the budget and allowed for additional recreation programs, including club and intramural sports. Now, in the face of a $1.5-million cut, the department must prioritize expenses and act accordingly.
Since varsity sports comprise nearly half of DAPER’s costs, it is no surprise that varsity sports is being charged with a large portion of the cuts. Distributing the load over all sports is impractical, since many teams are already pinching every penny. Senior staff members worked to find alternative solutions, but none were deemed sustainable. One or more teams must be dropped. When the announcement was originally made, administrators had not even begun to discuss which programs would be cut. DAPER concluded it was best to release this unfortunate news before CPW, so that students (particularly prefrosh) would not be caught off-guard. Currently, administrators are evaluating each team and moving quickly to reach a solution by the end of the month, so that incoming freshmen can factor the department’s ultimate decision into their own choice of college.
As explained by Department Head Julie Soriero, a variety of factors are being used to determine which sports are most worthy of varsity status — the same metrics were used in 2006 to determine a dividing line between club and varsity sports. While cost per student will be considered, administrators are likely to focus on each sport’s impact on the student community as a whole. And for those of you wondering, the performance of a program will not be the top priority; welcome to D-III.
Signs of trouble have been apparent for some time. The DAPER Advisory Board, a committee comprised of representatives from all divisions of the department, has been discussing budget matters since the MIT administration announced the campus-wide cut. This committee has ten student members: two each from the Undergraduate Association, Graduate Student Council, Intramural Council, Club Sports Council, and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). While cutting varsity sports was not explicitly brought to the committee, all of the charts and figures published recently in The Tech were originally discussed at these meetings. I believe I speak for all student reps when I say that concerns brought before the committee have been well respected and addressed. To those students who feel they are not being represented, I would suggest contacting the UA, which has not been present at meetings this academic year.
Not just varsity teams are making sacrifices. All programs within DAPER are feeling the effects of the budget cut. Physical Education classes are being scaled down, club sports have frozen their growth, and intramurals are instituting a registration fee for all sports for the first time in recent history. All of the facilities staff, coaches, and support personnel are anxiously awaiting a final decision, and all have been cooperating with Soriero and other senior staff to make all information readily available.
Some students are demanding that the department make promises that cut sports will be available as club sports or that teams will be phased out over time. These options are being investigated by the department, but they will not be deliberated until it is determined which programs will be cut. Other students believe that alumni donations are sufficient to keep sports alive each year; however, it would require massive contributions to convince the department to be willing to wager its own sustainability on such an unreliable source. Students should feel encouraged to continue providing ideas, but must be willing to accept that the easy solutions have already been considered.
Like many students, I am angered by the recent actions of the “wannabe hackers” who stole the Tim the Beaver mascot suit. It should be noted that the suit is property of the Campus Activities Complex, which has no direct affiliation to DAPER, and it was rented by and stolen from the SAAC, a committee comprised entirely of varsity athletes. Your actions have accomplished nothing and embarrassed your peers, many of whom had been working to handle the situation more maturely.
To students who want to show their support for intercollegiate athletics, I challenge you use a more productive method: showing up to matches and cheering for the Engineers. Every week, athletes are giving their all on the fields and courts in front of empty stands. On the same day that dozens gathered in lobby 7 to rally their support for intercollegiate sports and over 100 attended a Q&A in Johnson, the softball team had a double-header. Attendance at the two games was 30 and 40, respectively. Many were present to cheer for Babson, not MIT.
I am sympathetic for the athletes of the teams that will be cut, as this could certainly ruin their MIT experience. However, it is important to remember this is not the first time that teams have been lost. Some sports, like football, which was originally banned in 1902, have come and gone several times. Others, like varsity boxing and tug-of-war (believe it!) never returned. Once economic conditions are strong enough, DAPER will be able to re-evaluate its programs and hopefully restore these teams. Until then, I hope that students will accept the reality of the situation and focus their efforts on actively supporting those teams that we are lucky enough to still have. Go Tech!
Paul Blascovich is a member of the Class of 2009 and the former Chairman of the Intramural Council