The UBC Thunderbirds have re-gained one of their once-banished varsity programs

UBC reinstates Women’s Softball to varsity status

Relegated with Skiing to competitive club status by the school's 'sports targeting review' in 2014, Softball will soon return to the mound.

Banished over a year ago, following a lengthy and controversial ‘sports targeting review’, UBC’s Women’s Softball program will return to varsity status.

The school made the announcement on its GoThunderbirds website on Monday.

“We are pleased that the women’s softball program will continue to be part of UBC’s Varsity Athletics roster and we look forward to working with the team’s supporters over the coming years to develop a sustainable program for the future,” said Louise Cowin, the university’s VP of Students, who also led the review that relegated the program in February, 2014.

UBC will now work with donors and supporters to create a long-term funding solution for the program, the release says.

The Sports Review, the Lawsuit, to Now

Early in 2014, Cowin and her department decided to cut the school’s varsity teams number to 24, leaving Women’s Softball, Alpine Skiing, and Nordic Skiing in the cold. They were relegated to club status.

While keeping 24 teams, our approach will concentrate resources where teams are demonstrating success in achieving our vision,” Cowin said at the time.

Then-UBC president Stephen Toope said the sports review had “re-energized” the teams that held onto their varsity status – with some sports saved by much-publicized pushes and public outcry, especially the Hockey team which got support from the Vancouver Canucks and Kevin Bieksa – and praised the process for narrowing the school’s competitive focus.

“Our community has told us they want as many varsity teams as possible,” he said. “We’ve heard them, and we look forward to seeing this translated into solid action in the months ahead.”

Several of the review’s critics – and there were many – didn’t it see it that way, including alum Derek Swain.

“I think it is a crusade of the Vice President, Louise Cowin,” said Swain, the chair of the Save UBC Varsity Sports Committee, before the final results were shared and enforced. “She has come in and adopted a mandate for change… This has gone completely south and this review has been handled in such a poor way.

For softball, they have made financial sacrifices to initiate this program and they serve the community. Why cut them off? The financial requirements of the university (to softball) are very low. It just makes no sense.”

The Softball team didn’t see it the way Toope saw it, either.

The program had only existed for a couple of seasons and it had steadily, patiently improved in that time, finishing with a 25-21 record in the 2013-14 year (playing in the American NAIA division). Their support started with a select few and grew in scope as younger players and new recruits joined the team, funding increased, and they were waiting for the new field they had been promised by UBC’s athletic department.

That field never came and the axe fell. And despite Toope’s declaration that the past year’s public trial had energized his campus’s athletes, the Softball team launched a lawsuit against its university.

18 players were listed as plaintiffs. UBC, the athletics and recreation department, outgoing president Stephen Toope, Louise Cowin (UBC’s VP of Students), the B.C. Crown and the Canadian Crown were named as defendants.

The lawsuit – which also claimed gender discrimination and asked for the sports review to be voided – was filed in April. In May, UBC responded, denying the claims alleged in the suit and defending its decision to relegate Softball months earlier.

“The university is entitled to review and make changes to its varsity sports program,” the statement said (via UBC News). “Prior to making changes the university consulted with its varsity teams and the university athletics community through its sports review process.

All 29 teams were carefully evaluated during the process.”

No formal announcement has been made on the status of the team’s lawsuit, as it was filed and standing at the time of Monday’s news.

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