Just eight weeks prior to the next PACWEST (Pacific Western Athletic Conference) season, some student athletes at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) are stunned to learn it could be their last.
For others, their collegiate athletic careers may already be over.
Last Wednesday, coaches and athletes in the KPU Eagles Athletic Department received an email which announced “important changes in the direction for KPU’s varsity athletics program.”
Minutes later, a notice on the KPU Athletics website detailed the changes, which mean “winding down varsity athletics’ activities” and withdrawing from PACWEST over the next year.
“I cried for a half-hour straight,” said Chantalle Bracken, who will play goal for her second s eason, the final one for KPU Eagles soccer starting in September. “The program has given us opportunities we never thought possible. It’s horrific they’re going to shut it down.”
“It’s such a shock, it came totally out of the blue,” added Jessica Anderegg, co-captain of the women’s soccer team, who will play her fourth year at KPU this fall, then likely sit out her fifth season of eligibility rather than transfer to another university.
While soccer and golf will play their fall season in PACWEST, another season of basketball is only a “possibility” according to the KPU website. No mention was made on the future of the badminton team.
Dr. Jane Fee, Vice-Provost, Students at KPU, explained that while the decision had been considered for seven months, a final decision by the KPU executive committee wasn’t made until just before it was posted on the KPU athletics website.
Noting the varsity athletics budget is roughly $750,000 and “is focused almost entirely at the Surrey campus and 92 student-athletes,” Fee said the money will be reallocated to address “the broader need of students, ensuring their health and wellness.
“Certainly a valid concern is we don’t have the funding to serve 19,500 students.”
The announcement blindsided mostinvolved in varsity athletics at KPU. On May 29, the men’s basketball team announced five new recruits had filled out its roster for the upcoming season.
And less than three weeks ago, KPU Eagles Director of Athletics and Recreation David Kent announced Mandy Botham of Prince George had been appointed head coach of the women’s basketball team and the first of two summer tryout sessions was set for Thursday (July 16).
“We had a hiring that got caught in all this, and I feel terrible about this,” said Fee. “But if you look at an athletics calendar, there isn’t a good time (for such an announcement.)”
While aware their varsity sports programs will be eliminated, student athletes are left to wonder why. Many are questioning the decision to “refocus efforts to enhance recreational and intramural activities in support of the health and wellness of our entire study body.”
“Intramurals is nice and all, but it’s not varsity sports,” said Bracken. “The coaches don’t know why, but some say it was because of funding. And that left us scratching our heads.”
When hired less than two years ago, Kent set a goal of getting KPU into the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports). At the time, he said that goal was part of the reason he was hired.
“It would have cost $6.7 million once we were athletically ready,” said Fee. “And we’re not there competitively within PACWEST. Our teams are not at the top.”
Where the $750,000 that currently funds varsity athletics will go has still to be determined, and students will have a say.
“We’ll have town hall discussions at all campuses with all students asking what they want,” said Fee, noting intramurals and club team sports are possibilities. “We’re not getting out of sports, we’re getting out of varsity sports.”