By Jensen, Randy on April 22, 2020.
With the sudden announcement that the University of Lethbridge was cutting its Pronghorn Athletics men’s and women’s hockey programs due to the provincial education budget cuts, the community is rallying around the teams who are just starting to grasp the decision.
Monday morning, the U of L released a public statement after informing the teams’ coaches, players and donors about the difficult decision. For a number of years, the university has been looking at how the athletics programs are functioning, which became a helpful analytic in making the decision.
“The university has been considering our situation with respect to Pronghorn Athletics for years as we have struggled to find resources to support all of our programs,” says Mike Mahon, U of L president and vice-chancellor. “In 2015, we had a very significant report done by an external consulting group to look at all of our sports, to analyze them from everything from performance to costs, to academic performance and community engagement. That report came back to us and has been there in the background, and we did some follow-up research on that in 2019.”
Once the budget cuts rolled out, the U of L looked at ways it could reduce the impact on the number of student athletes who would lose their programming.
“With the significant budget cuts that we had, we went back to those reports to look at what they recommended and I would say that a significant part of the recommendation was that if we were looking at reducing a number of sports, that we look at trying to minimize the total number of sports reduced so that we can maintain opportunities for student athletes on campus,” says Mahon. “It leads you to look at what are your more expensive sports, and should those be taken a look at, so there were multiple factors that led to us to decide that the men’s and women’s hockey programs we would delete and, of course, this involved our board of governors significantly, and it involved lots of consultation with Sports and Recreation Services.”
The overall programming fees for the men’s and women’s hockey teams were $750,000 annually. The decision for the university to hold off the announcement until the end of the semester was to spare the students the additional stress while they are working to complete their final exams and projects.
“The decision not to consult with the student athletes was based on the fact that we didn’t want to disrupt their academic experiences as we went through this challenging consideration,” says Mahon. “We decided that we didn’t want this to become a real public process which has been the case with many of these decisions, and so we made that decision in the interest of our student athletes so that they could finish their season, and they could finish their exams. We made the decision to make the announcement as soon after the student athletes were done their final exams, so for those student athletes that do want to see if there is a program that is a good fit for them and they would have as much time as possible to make these decisions.”
Mahon says the hockey teams have always been a big part of the university and Pronghorn community, and although the decision to cut the programming was difficult for everyone, their history won’t be forgotten.
“So many people are sport enthusiasts and give their support for student sport and so that without a doubt was a very difficult part of the decision,” says Mahon. “The other part of that, which relates to the topic more specifically, is men’s hockey. It was just last year that we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the national championship, the miracle national championship as it is often described, and we had a wonderful celebration and we hosted Youth Sport National Championships, and of course those things run through your head when you are finding the right decisions to makes.”
The men’s and women’s hockey teams will continue to be supported through their scholarships if they choose to continue their education with the institution. The university also stated it will help student athletes find programming elsewhere if they decide they want to continue their hockey careers.
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