After UBC’s press conference yesterday, and their media release two weeks ago, and their letter to The Vancouver Sun a month ago, and their many other interviews on the subject, I don’t think anyone can say in good conscious they’re uninformed about the university’s athletic review.
In any case, let’s ignore the claptrap. UBC’s stated criteria for evaluating teams is publicly posted. They say they’ll decide early next year what teams will be downgraded for September 2015. Debate all you want whether the strategy is misguided or poorly communicated. But the only reason it’s a total “mystery” which teams will be cut is because nobody has actually tried to publicly compare all 29 teams against one another.
Wait, that actually sounds like hard work.
Which is why I’m going to do it for you.
Here’s a ranking of UBC’s 29 teams using their rubric, my knowledge of the teams (along with some help from other plugged in people), and some basic mental acumen.
First, the criteria as outlined by UBC. My comments in italics.
Competitive success, competition and progression – 35%
- Overall success at championships, nationals, worlds, and other major multisport events
- Quality of competition in the league
- Athlete development
(Do you win? If you do, are there lots of schools competing in your sport? Do athletes often move on to greater heights?)
Supports for competitive success – 15%
- Quality of facilities
- Quality of coaching
(Did we recently build a thing for you? Do you have lots of dedicated coaches?)
Community support and tradition – 20%
- Sources of alternative funding including partnerships, alumni support, and fan and merchandise sales
- Community support and interest in the team
- Tradition and history of the sport at UBC
(Do people come out to games? Is their a connected alumni base? Will people really complain if this is taken away?)
Partnerships – 10%
- External high performance sport organizations
- Campus and community partnerships
(Are there partnerships? Are they in areas of potential growth? Are other areas of the university aware of the team?)
Fit with University mission – 20%
- Student-athlete academic success
- Strategic fit for the University, students, and impact on international reputation
(Can UBC call you “world class” in press releases? Is there a chance alumni will go to the Olympics? Have you caused the university any embarrassment lately? Does UBC need to fiddle with the score to get their preferred sports in a better place?)
I’m going to mark these things on half point scales, with a maximum score of 10. Here’s UBC’s list.
That seems daunting, so let’s simplify a bit. The swimming, track and field, rowing, golf, cross country, and alpine skiing teams have the same web pages for both genders, compete in mostly the same events, and are small enough that if one gender is cut, it would be pretty difficult not to justify cutting the other. So let’s merge them together. Because this is my post and we don’t want to be here all day.
Alright, we’re considering 23 now. What, say, are the top 9? The elite of the elite? The ones that would stand to gain more funding in this new world?
Women’s Volleyball: 9
Men’s Basketball: 8.5
Men’s Soccer: 8.5
Women’s Basketball: 8
Women’s Soccer: 8
Women’s Field Hockey: 7
Men’s Volleyball: 7
Women’s Hockey: 7
These are UBC’s tentpole programs. They either win year in and year out, produce elite athletes, have support from both the university and greater community, regularly face top competition, or bring fans consistently to games. And most do several of these things.
Not all of these programs are elite. Women’s field hockey suffers from a lack of competition in their three-team conference, men’s volleyball hasn’t won a conference championship in 30 years, and women’s hockey is just a year removed from its first successful season.
But the first two have been cornerstones of UBC Athletics for decades and are part of national development programs. They’re safe. And as for women’s hockey, a new pilot program championed by UBC allowing full-ride scholarships ensures they will stay put.
So those are the elite. What about the middle ground? The programs that you think would be safe, but could go if events conspire against them? I count six.
Men’s Field Hockey: 6
Men’s Rugby: 6
Women’s Rugby: 6
Men’s Hockey: 6
Let’s quickly go through the middle four, and take our time with the first and last since they’re the ones getting all the attention. Rowing doesn’t have tons of local competition (or crowds), but has a good program and a fancy boathouse. There’s no Canadian university league for rugby or field hockey, but they have new facilities, long histories, and proven records of producing elite players. And women’s rugby is growing throughout Canada and UBC has been steadily improving. All could conceivably be given “club” status rather than “varsity” if UBC decides to really consolidate at the top. Which seems highly unlikely.
Now, about hockey and football. There’s a lot of outrage by donors and, more importantly, alumni about these two being considered for the chopping block—without a lot of tangible evidence for their fears.
Indeed, it’s hard at first blush to imagine UBC without a men’s football or hockey team. They have decades of tradition to draw upon. The football team may have a limited schedule, but Homecoming Game brings the most students together to cheer on a Thunderbird team every year. And men’s hockey only recently moved into their Olympic digs named for an influential donor.
And yet, when there’s smoke, there’s…well, not necessarily fire, but a reason for the smoke. The football team won a single playoff game in the last decade (which was later revoked), while the hockey team haven’t won a conference championship (let alone a national one) in over 40 years. They don’t really fit with UBC’s currently “world-class” conception of athletics, and they’re relatively expensive programs to maintain.
It seems the football team would rank better than hockey because they may have the strongest alumni program at UBC, and current students actually come out to games. Really, both have enough (sports buzzword warning) intangibles that it would be a shocking upset if any of them went down to defeat—unless UBC decides to cut one large team to save three or four smaller ones.
But there’s a decently clear gap between these programs and the rest. And it’s these teams that may not have gotten headlines in this process, but if you look at UBC’s rubric, may be the ones most at risk.
Baseball (Men): 5
Track and Field (Both): 5
Cross Country (Both): 5
Golf (Both): 5
Skiing (Men’s Alpine): 3
Skiing (Men’s and Women’s Nordic): 3
Softball (Women’s): 2.5
Now your standard disclaimer—all of these programs are well-run. Full of solid people. For any student-athlete, it’d be awful for their sport to be suddenly downgraded in the middle of their degree.
Having said that, it’s hard to make a case that these sports aren’t at the bottom of UBC’s hierarchy. They’re either new or have no fans, or have limited coaches, or limited partnerships, or limited success—at least compared to their fellow teams. Most of them rarely compete on campus as well.
However, the most salient similarity is they all compete primarily against American competition — generally the NAIA, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, a sort of a poor man’s NCAA. It means they lack many Canadian partnerships, development streams, and visibility.
At the same time, you need to have a minimum of six teams in the NAIA. All it would take is three to be cut for the rest to be kicked out—and with it, their general viability.
There are alternatives for some. The Track and Cross Country teams could still compete in the CIS in the future. The ski team says they expect to become a club team and that it might actually
benefit be a better fit for them.
The baseball and softball teams? Well, there’s no good options for them. And the golf team is also in a precarious position — but it’s not like UBC has built any facility for them, and that their biggest booster is critic Marty Zlotnik probably isn’t helping their cause right now.
So there you go. The NAIA sports and skiing are the most likely to be cut. With men’s hockey having a slight chance of being danger. Unless they aren’t. That’s the fun with hypothetical rubrics.
Of course, the entire process is anything but fun for the teams and athletes at risk of being cut. But if we’re all going to wildly speculate, we may as well go about it in a teensy more intelligent way.