By: Mohammed Shariff and Charisma Madarang
Its 6:10 on a cold afternoon at the University of California Irvine. At Crawford pool kids are yelling and running in every direction, the cement is drenched with water, backpacks litter the bleachers, girls and boys in swim caps laugh and giggle as they stretch before plunging into the pool and coaches can be heard barking orders to swimmers stroking back and forth. A man wearing khaki shorts and a blue UCI windbreaker stands on the edge of the pool directing laps. The man, Brian Pajer, has been a part of the UCI swimming community for 25 years and a UCI alumni. Pajer is also the ex-coach of the recently cut UCI swimming and diving team and is now teaching elementary to high school students what he taught his former Anteaters. With a congenial smile, he walks over to the bleachers and sits down to begin the interview.
Q: When did you first start swimming?
A: Well, I was a swimmer here. I went to school here from 85’ to 90‘. I was on the national team as a swimmer, I was in a couple Olympic trials and then started coaching when I was done with all that. In 92’ I started coaching. I’ve been the head coach from 2003 til’ this year when the program was cut.
Q: What made you want to start coaching?
A: Well I was a Physics Major. I finished my degree in 1990 and then Olympic trials were in 1992, so I swam two more years to do that. After that I felt I had learned so much about swimming in the last five years that I didn’t want to go on and get my masters and not pass any of that back. So I said, “O.K so I’ll coach for one year after, at least I can leave the sports and I gave something back to it after it gave me so much.” And I did it for a year and I loved it and I just kept doing it. I was also doing tutoring for math and physics…I used to coach Amanda Beard, it’s actually her birthday today…she’s a four time Olympic Gold Medalist. I coached her until she was 13, so from 9 to 13 and she went on to set multiple gold medals. I’ve had the opportunity to coach really good swimmers who have gone on to do great things. Its been a lot of fun.
Q: What were the funds that you had to raise?
A: They said we had to raise 2.4 Million dollars to be able to bring the program back. The Alumni started it up, I was kind of an advisor to them and they started raising money to bring the swimming and diving back. We raised quite a bit of money but nothing anything approaching that. I think they’re looking for a really big donor who can step in. So they are trying to see if they can come up with a big amount of money but right now we haven’t gotten any concrete donations towards that amount..
Q: How long were you given to come up with 2.4 Million?
A: Well the program was cut at the end of July 28th or 29th. And we started school back in September as you know, so we only had a couple of months.
Q: So if you had raised 2.4 Million they would bring back Swimming and Diving?
A: Yes, they would reinstate the team. That’s what they said.
Q: Would the team be reinstated for only a year after that?
A: No, basically that 2.4 Million represented a 5-year commitment to the team. So we could have a solid team with scholarships and everything else. Earlier this year in March I had a meeting with the athletic director, he said that we’re gonna have to cut back most of your scholarships. So we were cut from a budget of about 400, 000 down to just under 300,000 dollars. And then our program was totally cut at the end of July.
Q: So then what happened to the students with scholarships?
A: They were allowed to keep their scholarships for this year. But after this year they won’t have any more scholarships.
Q: Have any freshman come in with those scholarships and what options do they have at this point?
A: There have been a few. Generally programs are cut right after the championships in March. Giving the students five months to transfer to another to continue swimming if they want to. However, we were cut in late August and they didn’t have time to transfer. All the admissions were closed. They can still go to school here, take the scholarship for this year and then next year transfer to a new school. So basically, after this year everybody will lose their scholarship.
Q: Have there been swimmers who just completely left the UC system?
A: There’ve been a few. They’ve gone out to either a community college or transfer to a four year school next year.
Q: How did you take it when your team was cut?
A: Surprise, they couldn’t believe it, crying, anger, a lot of mixed emotions. It was hard. To see a program that you’ve been a part of be cut because of the economic impact…it was hard for me personally. And as hard as it was for me personally, it was harder for me to tell the swimmers about it. We had about 20 new freshman coming in who had all gone threw their orientations, picked their classes and were all excited and then I had to call all them and tell them what was happening. I had to call up 45 to 50 swimmers and have the same conversation with each one that “sorry there’s no program next year.” That was tough. That was the hardest part. I wish there was a way to save swimming without completely cutting it.
Q: How did the Anteaters Swimming and Diving foundation fundraise, what was their strategy?
A: We went around to some of the bigger open-water swimming events and sold t-shirts. We had t-shirts printed up that said “Save UCI swimming and diving.” Got people to donate as much as they could, sent letters out to the community and business community, targeted certain bigger donors and corporations. As you know it’s a tough time in the economy for everybody, so its not the easiest time to raise money but we really went at it hard for those two months and did all we could. We just never really got that big donor who was willing to put in that big chunk of money.
Q: How much were you able to raise in the end?
A: I think it was between $50 and $70, 000. And that’s quite a bit of money within a couple of months but unfortunately that’s quite a ways from 2.4 million.
While the discontinuation of UCI’s Men’s and Women’s Swimming and Diving, Men’s and Women’s Rowing, and Sailing teams have come as a shock to many, in recent years budget cuts have not been uncommon to the Athletic Department at UCI.
In a past New University article, titled Budget Cuts Limiting UCI’s Athletic Success by Bhavik Patel, on April, 2007 stated “after generating over 260, 000 in profit during the 2003-2004 season, the athletic department has lost over 1.5 Million in the ensuing 3 years, leaving many questions asked to whether future cuts are likely and which programs might be affected.” So if this was known to the athletic department in previous years, why was nothing done to prevent future loses within sports?
We sought out Phil Wang, the Associate Athletic Director-Business and Finance of UCI’s Athletic Department. In a neat office filled with Anteater memorabilia, fitted in a gray suit, he sat down with us to discuss the reasoning behind the department’s decision to cut five of UCI’s oldest sports. A UCLA graduate who spent twelve years working for their Athletic Department before coming to UCI in October, 2005.
Q: What is the athletic budget for this year?
A: For this year we’re operating with roughly 10.4 Million dollars. Down a million. We’re a team player, we take budget cuts accordingly.
Q: How is the money distributed amongst the sport teams?
A: A student referendum passed a few years ago, so there’s certain funds that are earmarked for certain sports. Women’s Golf, women’s water polo, baseball. Its up to the Athletic Director Mike Izzi what he wants to allocate to each sport. On an annual basis we do an annual review of financials and go over budgets for the following year, this happens traditionally around April, or may time. That when we determine what is allocated to each sports program.
Q: Do you know the amount a certain team would get over another?
A: It fluctuates because for each sport the rosters sizes are different, number of scholarships are different. For example, baseball has a bigger roster than women’s golf, so that plays a significant factor of it. The NCAA limits us a certain amount of scholarships were allowed to allocate. What also plays in to it is in state vs. out of state scholarships. Outer state scholarship double the amount. With our current budget we don’t offer a lot of out of state scholarships. Were not able to compete with schools like, UCLA, and Stanford for a particular athlete because we don’t have the money to do so. Those schools have extreme budgets. We recruit instate.
Q: Has there been a reduction in scholarships this year and how are students being compensated if their team was cut?
A: Not yet (smiled with a hint of reluctance), a reducing in scholarships effectively reduces our level of competition and our ability to compete at the division one level. Right now we’re looking at 15% increase in tuition. That means another $500,000 cut in our budget next year. We can’t support that at this time. Again we are competing with the likes of UCLA and Stanford. On many levels we compete if not beat them which is astounding.
Students whose teams were cut will get no help after the academic year their scholarship is for. We will help them in everyway we can if they decide to transfer to another institution. We hope that most of our student athletes come here because of the institution, and not because of the sports program alone. Our scholarships are 3 million dollars, that and salaries is what eat up our budget. We are trying to mitigate the extra $500,000 cut by fundraising. We are tying to at least raise $250,000, so in turn we’ll lose $250,000 instead of $500,000.
Q : How did you guys come to the decision of cutting the five teams?
A: We have to look at all our programs. We have what you call “conference membership”. An advantage to being in a conference is what they call an automatic qualifier to the NCAA post season. There are a certain number of sports that actually help you with that: basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis. You need to have a certain number of sports that are members of the conference to be a participate. We obviously couldn’t let go of a sport that would kick us out of the conference, it wouldn’t do us any good. Lastly its budgetary.
Q: “Budgetary” as in what sports draw in the most income?
A: Baseball, basketball, womens volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, tennis, and now women’s water polo are all apart of the Big West. Another conference we compete in is called the MPSF ( Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) that’s where our men’s water polo and volleyball participate. So we took these sports and did an analysis as to what would get us to where we needed to be in terms of making sure that everything was equitable. Unfortunately those were the programs fell under the untouchable sports vs. the sports that we had to let go.
Q: Would you say that the popularity of the sports plays a big factor in the decision process?
A: I mean its hard to say because traditionally the sports that we had to discontinue were the original sports that started here at UCI. Very difficult decision. When you look at the totality of it these teams aren’t apart of the NCAA or not recognized by them. You have the crew programs where women’s crew is apart of the NCAA, but not the men’s. In terms of swimming and diving that was again in terms of financial, budgetary, roster were looking at all those programs, that plays into it.
In terms on popularity, those are popular sports out here in orange county, but going back to what allows us to be members of the conference, what gives us points, what constitutes ability for us to participate in post season NCAA events those are all things we have to consider, to be concerned with. We have to keep the sports on the referendum, we went back to title 9 issues, and budgetary aspect making sure we were in compliance with all that.
Q: What about donors, are they giving more or less compared to other years?
A: It fluctuates. As the athletic department fundraising rises, the whole university’s fundraising rises. What we believe is that we are the front porch to the university. Chancellor Drake got to go to the White House to meet the President (Barak Obama) because the men’s volleyball team won the National Championships. Its just the way the American culture revolves around sports. We use that as a tool to get us in front of the president to talk about what were doing at UCI.
Q: When did you find out the teams were going to be cut and when were they told?
A: We really wanted to avoid it. We prided ourselves that we were on of the few institutions that had 23 sports. To put in perspective, I came from UCLA where they have 22 sports, they also had a sports budget of $65-66 million dollars. While we were running 23 sports with $11 million dollars! Yet we’re still competing on their level, we are a division 1 school.
We looked into what else we could cut out in terms of our operations budget. We were already operating with a bare bones budget, so there wasn’t much else we could do. I couldn’t cut more pencils or paper out of our budget. When you're looking a million dollars, its significant, and unless we went to being a division 2 school or 3 and didn’t offer scholarships we had to look at eliminating programs. So we came to the decision that these programs were the ones we would discontinue.
At that point Mike Izzie had meetings with the head coaches and told them they had an opportunity to be saved if they fundraised a certain amount as intercollegiate sports. We told them that we needed a 5-year commitment based on amounts that we calculated to financially support the program. It was hard to get people to rally around that.
We didn’t know our budget number or what we were going to get. So he had to hold back late because the California state budget wasn’t signed until July. We were hoping for a better budget and we had a plan in place that was ready to go. But our assumption turned out to be true and it was actually more than we anticipated.
At that point we made the decision to discontinue the programs in order for our other programs to survive. It was the state legislation that held us up. We would be in a significant deficit if we didn’t discontinue the sports.
Q: What do you mean by “the front porch of the University?”
A: When the baseball team went to the College World Series our merchandise sold out, everybody liked our logo. A little kid in Omaha, Nebraska now knows where UCI is when he might have never known before. We drive interest to the university, we drive exposure, media.
When we hosted the regional’s here for baseball ESPN couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the campus is and how good the concessions are. When George Washington University made it to the final four, their applications quadrupled the next year. Again exposure sports garners. The more sports we have, the more opportunities we have to be the good media exposure for the university. We don’t want to commercialize our campus, but at this point we need to seek out corporate sponsors because that’s where the big money is. We also have to increase our fundraising efforts so that we are able to support our programs. We have to generate more ticket revenue, summer camps, everything we do is vital to our survival.
Q: How have the athletic cuts effected the morale of the athletic departments?
A: Its very demoralizing. I truly believe that we are in a better position now to move forward. Right now we are ranked 65 in the country out of 300 odd schools. Two years ago we were the top Division 1 AAA school in the country. Three years ago finished at the top and two years ago top five and last year we finished second. We’re doing good.
Q: In regards to the “front porch,” how do you think sports affects academics?
A: Athletics is what pulls in donors first. Then we spark interest in the other parts of school. You cant really do much with a law school, or med school in terms of social events. But bring them to an athletic event, showcase the campus, get them engaged-- that’s what we can do. School sprit is key. We are a young school and what we have done in a short amount of time has been tremendous. I truly believe we need the student body to be engaged by going to games to support their fellow classmates. We need the community to buy in, this is your home team, UCI is orange counties home team.
Phil Wang’s view of the direct relation between sports and academics is also shared by coaches here on campus. As Wang mentioned, UCI sports has been the “front porch” to showcasing the university’s many academic achievements. However, with cuts drastically affecting the athletic department, the lack of willing donors to support our declining sports funds shed’s light on the significance of a strong student body and community in times of hardship.
In an interview with Vice Chancellor Gomez of Student Affairs, this issue was explored. “Our campus is still very flexible because its so young, were not even fifty years old, compared to other institutions that have been in existence for 100 years where there are walls and protections and alumni.” Gomez asserts that without the financial support of these “walls” and “alumni” to protect the programs here at UCI, the “pain that athletics is going through” is felt throughout all aspects of the university, academics included.
Even though the basketball team still stands as an official intercollegiate sport, it has not eluded the effects of the budget crisis. The per diem, money allocated to players during away games, have been temporarily reduced from $100 to $20 this year; the size of the basketball travelling squad (and other remaining sports) has been reduced to limit traveling costs; paper programs covering general information on home games have been suspended and are now only accessible online. Yet this is not the only dilemma that the UCI athletics have encountered. The bigger problem lies in that spectator sports like UCI's basketball, and baseball do not draw in the large crowds seen at UCLA, USC, and Standford. A large part of this is due to the lack of contributions, and support from the academic student body and community.
Head coaches Molly Goodenbour of the Women’s Basketball team, an alumni of Stanford, and Paula Weishoff of the Women’s Volleyball team, an Olympic participant, have also expressed their concerns. “I wish people knew we had a basketball team. That’s the biggest thing here, everybody’s so into what they’re doing. People don’t get involved outside their realm,” said Goodenbour.
Similarly, Weishoff said, “Trying to get students at our matches, that’s a challenge for me is to try and get the academics and athletics to coalesce. I would like to see our gym packed with students that aren’t affiliated with sports.”
This discrepancy between UCI’s sports and academics is problematic in that the athletic department does not reflect the same ideals as its educational programs. In the article "The Role and Scope of Intercollegiate Athletics in U.S. Colleges and Universities," by Bradley James Bates, “When values in one environment contradict those in another, growth is limited by confusion and inconsistency…Athletics provides one of the few enterprises in academia where a group of individuals can strive together through adversity toward a shared vision.” While this is the goal of Goodenbour, Weishoff and the athletic department as a whole, their “growth” is limited by the lack of student support for sports at UCI and the separation between the two. This lack of support illuminates the absence of donors to aid the university during this financial struggle. For the popularity of a university's sport team not only boost its reputation, but also bring in alumni and other donors willing to provide money to both the athletic and academic departments. Thus the disparity and lack of camaraderie hurt both realms in the long run.
In particular, these affects often dampen the morale of UCI athletes. Darren Moore, a 4th year Basketball player, expressed his frustrations. “I think if we had more fans it would make us more hyped up to play. When there’s nobody in the stands we’re just like, ‘Aw man, we gotta come out here today…then its just going through the motions.’ It kinda hurts us a little bit because now we’re thinking man we put in all this time and now nobody wants to see us play. It hurts. If you’re going to UCLA you know there’s going to be 20, 000 plus every game. That’s the best arena to ever walk in. Its not like that at UCI. Its different.” Thus, hindering the financial gains from sales of tickets, memorabilia, concessions, donors, and fundraising in general-- funding that could have saved the five cut sports in this budgetary crisis.
Despite these difficulties, the affects of budget cuts on student athletes should not be overlooked. A 2nd year ex-rower (Name disclosed) from the discontinued Women’s Rowing Crew spoke about how she identified herself with UCI through the sport. “Rowing is what defines you like when you say with pride, ‘I am a UCI rower.’ Not being able to say that or think of yourself in that way is difficult.” The 2nd year ex- rower is an example of what the budget has deprived many student-athletes of: the attachment, loyalty, and identification of being part of a “shared vision” as mentioned by Bates.
The UC budget cuts are not only an issue of cut sports but an overall look at how the athletics and academics all play a part in the representing UCI. With both playing a role in contributing to the campus’ growth and economic health. When one falters, the other follows.