Goodbye, Softball: UBC's Sport (Targeting) Review Leaves Only Victims

The logo for the UBC Thunderbirds. - Wikimedia Commons
The logo for the UBC Thunderbirds.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons

I have bias for and against UBC, and this is important to know.

Because, really, I couldn't give a you-know-what about UBC or the Thunderbirds. I went to Western. I was a Mustang... I am a Mustang. I don't cheer for UBC. It's not my university, none of their teams are my team, and (frankly) I have always smirked and scoffed smugly at the school's desperate attempts to make itself more important than it really is, from its forced Homecoming to its nationally irrelevant football team.

But then, I'm also biased towards and for UBC. I have been fortunate in the past few years to know and know quite well many of the parents, athletes, coaches, and donors who worked so damned hard to found and then enliven UBC's women's Softball team.

Softball is already a sport that is forgotten or ignored by essentially everyone, even sports buffs, unless Jenny Finch is still blonde and still pitching.

But that got even worse today, especially for softball in Vancouver, when the sport was axed from UBC's varsity status – along with both genders in Alpine and Nordic Skiing – in the school's sport (targeting) review.

(See the final results of the review here.)

The problem with cutting softball has its roots in the same place or way I callously and intentionally began this "column" – there are so, so many people who don't care about UBC athletics... and they go to the school.

Now that Softball is no more, now that softball is relegated to competitive club status (which essentially puts it just below Quidditch for B.C.'s athletic Muggle community), nobody but people like myself will ever know how much hard work, how much dedication, how much honest and earnest effort went into creating that team, into making that team not only competitive but also a winner. (The Softball team went 25-21 last year, its best record to-date, in the United States's NAIA.)

Nobody will ever know just how well that program did, both on the field and off it. Nobody will know how self-sustaining the program was, financially. Because it doesn't matter anymore.

In five years of existence, UBC's Softball team wasn't a powerhouse, I don't think. I honestly wouldn't know, because the sport doesn't have an equator. There is no way to compare, no way to judge, and no way to analyze it, with teams from both Canada and the United States quite haphazardly slotted into whatever geographic category the sport's governing bodies (the NAIA and the CIS are the only ones that have mattered to UBC) have concocted for them.

And still, with its final results, the school couldn't help itself from treating even the majority of the sports it passed with a patronizing hot iron to the arm.

It has split its 24 approved sports into three hierarchies, based on support (which really means money).

The first category includes stuff like Football and Basketball. The typical hoarders. The 1 per cent. Then there are the second tier, the sports on a leash, like Golf, Soccer, and Rugby. It's a branding that says, Yeah, you're fine, but you're not Football, and don't forget that. And then there are sports that have been given time and permission, essentially, to pursue their own form of funding, which UBC called hybrid funding. That category includes men's Ice Hockey and Baseball.

You know, it's sort of like when then-President George W. Bush told that woman at that conference she was "American" for working two jobs. Be happy you're alive and know that we admire you for your struggle... and stop breathing on me. That sort of thing.

Meanwhile, sports like Softball were pursuing "hybrid funding". Their reward? Hybrid importance. Metered existence. A slow drip.

There have been several people who have defended UBC for its review, mostly defending the two female stormtroopers – Louise Cowin and Ashley Howard – who led it from inception to fruition and who were mocked and often unfairly slandered (in a sexist way) for what they were doing.

Veteran reporter Gary Mason – the Globe and Mail's wordsmith on everything athletic and political – has defended them and defended the review, going even further to say that more sports should have been cut, because nobody cares about them anyway.

"Oh, my, after all the media-driven hysteria over the UBC sports review, they cut five teams," Mason Tweeted this morning, after the final results were posted. "Now down to 24 (teams), or five more than rich UofWash(ington)."

This is correct. Washington still has fewer varsity teams than UBC. Of course, the United States has, like, a million other universities that might have the sports U of W doesn't, but whatever.

Four minutes later:

"Now many of the UBC varsity teams can go back to playing in front of friends and family. While the majority of campus ignores them."

The truth of Mason's Tweets is… they're true.

Does anybody in Greater Vancouver care about any of UBC's teams? Do YOU?

Unless you're an alumni of a certain athletic club, unless you played for the school and one of its teams at some time, or unless you just happen to know a lot of people who did (like me), you're not going to care.

But that's the problem. The winners of this review – well, the survivors, really – will be ignored. And the losers will be ignored. There was no harm in letting Skiing or Softball stay, especially if they were given the hybrid funding treatment, but there's all the harm in cutting off their heads.

Mr. Mason's Tweets, to me, are more a critique of the school, of its students, of the media than they are a critique of the sports slammed shut. (Although, he is a member of the media, and I'm always confused whenever someone does that. It's sort of like going out of position in hockey and then passing the puck to where you're supposed to be.)

But the problem with this review wasn't that it existed. It's that it wasn't a review in the first place.

It was a tactical move, made to remind those on borrowed time that someone's always about to knock. It was coated with the faux aim of focusing on sports that were most in the spirit of the university.

And apparently, the enterprising sport of Softball isn't in the school's best interest, or doesn't corroborate with school spirit – whatever the hell that means – despite all evidence that suggests and shows it is and it does.

This review has created only victims. And how is that an accomplishment?


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