Saint Mary’s University today announced, as part of the university budget process, that it has made the difficult decision to discontinue the Women's Varsity Hockey Team.There is no schadenfreude for me on this one. I'm somehow a lightning rod for folks who still want to bitch about UNB demoting their women's program to club status, and maybe that is what will happen to the SMU program. I hope so. I don't like to see anyone lose an opportunity to play varsity, or at least club, sports while going to school. There are all sorts of individual benefits to the student-athlete, and schools win by having those personalities in their classrooms.
Athletics and Recreation Director, Steve Sarty, said the difficult decision was made as a result of the budget deliberations that are currently underway and following a detailed review of the university’s sports programs.
“I spoke today directly to Coach Lisa Jordan. The players have been notified. I know the news has saddened them and, no doubt, it is upsetting,” said Sarty.
Over the coming weeks, athletics staff and student services staff will work with any players who want to transfer to another university.
Times are tough at universities in the Maritimes. The demographics aren't good - there are fewer high school students every year. While there may be booming populations in other parts of Canada, those kids (or their parents) seem more interested in jamming into over-crowded local universities instead of attending the long established (UNB is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year) schools out east that have lots of seats in classrooms and lots of residence rooms going unfilled.
There is also the little matter that the federal government did a good job of balancing the national budget in recent years, and a lot of those savings came from cutting back on transfer payments to have-not provinces, which is all of us in the Maritimes (For nitpickers Newfoundland is now a have-province with their petrodollars and by geography is part of Atlantic Canada, but not the Maritimes).
So the feds cut back transfer payments, and the provinces have less money to give to universities, and enrollment is not growing (or declining) and I think you can see the resultant budget crunch. Varsity athletics are not professors or classrooms, so they have to take a hit. Saint Mary's is just hitting that wall after UNB already did a few years ago. Of course SMU kept their expensive football team, just like Mount Allison did when they dropped men's hockey back in the 90's. UNB dropped their football team back in the 80's to fund their other sports. You see the trend here, right?
The AUS women's hockey conference will be down to six teams. The men's conference has eight teams and three of those schools now don't have varsity women's programs: Acadia, Saint Mary's and UNB. Coincidentally the top three programs this year. Only Mt. A has a varsity women's program and not a men's program.
SMU points out in their release that they will still have an equal number of men' s and women's varsity sports teams. This was the same case when UNB reorganized their varsity sports and demoted/cut women's hockey.
So count me a little surprised today, but not shocked. It looks to be a necessary but difficult business decision.
Saint Mary's Makes Difficult Decision to Discontinue Women's Hockey (SMU media release)
CIS: BUDGET CUTS FORCE SAINT MARY'S TO DROP WOMEN'S HOCKEY (Canadian Press via TSN)