|By Teesa Johnson, Black College Wire
Aug. 1, 2005 – Jason Still’s dream for his upcoming senior year at Florida A&M University included driving the golf team to the top. But instead of soaring triumphantly like an eagle, he is exploding inside from the university’s recent decision to drop golf from the athletic program.
Men’s tennis, men’s golf and the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have been eliminated by the university’s board of trustees in an effort to balance the athletics budget. In the June 30 meeting, interim athletic director E. Newton Jackson Jr. also recommended reducing band travel, which will save more than $400,000, and a $1.7 million reduction in scholarship money for athletes.
“I’m lucky because the university will be giving us our full amount of scholarship money for one more year as long as we are still academically eligible,” Still said. “However, my teammates who are not graduating this year will not get any of their scholarship money next year, unless the university is able to raise the money.”
Still added that his scholarship money for a school year is approximately $7,500.
The university is seeking donations to save the four sports:
The elimination of the four sports, the reduction of the band travel and scholarship money and other cost-cutting strategies will help the athletics department balance a proposed budget of about $6.7 million for the 2005-06 school year, Jackson told trustees at the June 30 meeting.
The bigger picture is that students are being affected, said student Ramon Alexander, president of the Student Government Association and a trustee. “This is unacceptable for the board to have these issues fall back on the students. You have to get students’ input if you are going to affect their pockets,” he said.
The athletics department plans to offer the players from the four sports 60 percent of their scholarship money for one year. After next year, they will not receive the scholarships.
The athletics director “should have taken more time and thought this out before making this decision,” said Charlana Brown, a tennis player from Los Angeles. “He hasn’t seen any matches to know how good the men’s tennis team is, because they are much better than the football team. I feel that they should try taking away money from each sport, rather than cutting four out of the picture.”
Some university alumni called the decision a setback for African Americans who enjoy playing these sports.
“These sports are hard for blacks to break through and excel in,” said Brandon Kiel, a former golf player at Florida A&M. “I don’t understand why they decided to cut something that blacks are rarely seen doing.”
Kiel added, “This is very unfortunate for the athletes, because the teams are good and this was an opportunity for them to get a better education.”
Though the decision was harsh, the university must do what is best for the athletic department, said Trustee Alberto R. Cardenas.
If board members do not have sympathy for students after cutting these sports, they should be ashamed, Cardenas said. However, he added, “Pain lasts a lot less when you make tough decisions up front, rather than letting troubles linger on.”
Castell Bryant, the university’s interim president, agreed that eliminating these programs would be a big sacrifice for students, but said the school’s main priority is balancing the budget.
“We are in this period of uncertainty for the next couple of months and we really need to [set] aside our dealings with the NCAA,” Bryant said. “We are required by the law to present a balanced budget for the athletic department and that is what we will do.”
Teesa Johnson is a graduate student in journalism at Florida A&M University.