It was announced recently that University of California Riverside administration has discussed eliminating competitive sports because of their rapidly declining funding due to the coronavirus pandemic. Former players and athletic officials are heavily against the idea, but it is just one of many being floated around by the school’s budget advisory committee. Recently, the committee listed the elimination of athletics, combined with building a more robust intramural sports program, among their ideas for permanent cuts.

The panel, who are looking out for the university’s academic and research programs, also recommended officials consider asking each college and administrative department to come up with plans to trim expenses 10% to 15%, and to consider eliminating the School of Public Policy and support for a campaign to boost private financial investment in the campus, among other ideas.

“No cuts have been made at this point in time,” John Warren, representative for University of California Riverside, said. “The committee presented considerations for budget reductions across the campus, given the serious nature of the financial challenges, but no final decisions have been made for any unit on campus, including athletics.”

University of California Riverside administration have been discussing the possibility of eliminating competitive sports due to their rapidly declining funding brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Since 2001, University of California Riverside has competed in NCAA Division I, the highest level of intercollegiate athletics, and is a member of the Big West Conference. There are currently 15 sports which include men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field, baseball, softball and women’s volleyball. The school had 304 athletes during the 2018-2019 school year, the most recent total reported on the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Data Analysis website. It is also one of the nation’s most ethnically diverse schools and a favorite choice for students trying to become the first in their families to earn four-year degrees.

Ending the athletic programs was brought up in summer budget talks, but the idea hasn’t gained much momentum since and elimination isn’t imminent. The school’s new Academic Senate chair, Jason Stajich, professor of microbiology and plant pathology, said the likelihood athletics would be dropped is “probably low but can’t say that it is zero.”

Riverside resident Stan Morrison, the university’s athletic director from 1999 to 2011, told the media that he would hate to see the university’s sports disappear as athletics are a huge part of the fabric of all of the great universities in the country. He also said that the football program, which was played from 1955 through 1975, never returned after it was dropped.

The athletics department already has made damaging cuts when they had to lay off several employees when teams’ seasons were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, in a letter to the University of California Riverside community dated Aug. 28, said state funding for the university has been cut by about $32 million this year, and more reductions are expected in the fiscal year that begins next July. At the same time, revenue from housing, dining, parking and other services on campus has fallen and enrollment has dropped, he said, even as operating expenses are rising.

The University of California Riverside has competed in NCAA Division I since 2001 and is a member of the Big West Conference. Valley News/Courtesy photo

Warren said the “core” budget is about $575 million and comprised of state dollars at 44%, student tuition at 50% and non-resident tuition at 6%. Support for athletics runs in the $12-million-to-$14-million range per year. The pandemic has affected each of those sources, he said, and as a result, this year’s budget is down $46 million, or about 8%.

The next step, Wilcox said, is for deans, vice chancellors and other leaders to present their strategies for trimming costs to the Budget Advisory Committee in mid or late September. About that time, the university should have more details about fall enrollment, federal relief money and other factors that affect budgeting, he said.

It was said that decisions likely will be made in October, with cuts to be spread over two years. Hopefully, it will be a decision that gets made soon as many student athletes turned down other opportunities to attend the university. Of course, there are the many future Highlanders who will need to know whether they have a future in athletics at the school or not.

For now, students have been supporting the school with the hashtag #KeepUCRAthletics across social media platforms. To keep up to date with the all the current news out of UCR, visit http://www.ucr.edu or http://www.gohighlanders.com.

JP Raineri can be reached by email at sports@reedermedia.com.