Hockey: Saint Mary's dumps women's program

Great timing, but is there ever a good time for bad news. Less than a week after McGill defeated StFX for the women's hockey championship, Saint Mary's announced today that they are discontinuing women's hockey. You know SMU, the same school that won the men's championship last year. Their first.
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.

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.
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.

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)
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  1. I just added the link to the CP story on the TSN site and didn't notice your comment Rob. Oops.

  2. "SMU points out in their release that they will still have an equal number of men' s and women's varsity sports teams."

    Equal number of teams but how many roster spots?

    Women = Volleyball (13) + Track (13) + Soccer (20) + Rugby (25) + Field Hockey (20) + Cross Country (7) + Basketball (12) = 110

    Men = Track (14) + Soccer (23) + Hockey (24) + Football (82) + Cross Country (8) + Basketball (12) = 163

    That's quite a disparity and that's with one more women's team. If the release is correct then there is actually one fewer women's team or I accidentally counted a women's club team. Whatever way you look at it, any claims of equality are ridiculous.

  3. No problem. That story has more content anyway, including a city councillor looking to ... well, I won't speculate on politicians' motives.

  4. Tommies: Thanks for bringing this to our attention initially, but please refrain from an ax-grinding anti-UNB agenda push here. Mr. Kilfoil was just showing there are shades of gray to this story -- and considering the Nova Scotia provincial government has cut Saint Mary's funding by about 4%, it's understandable there would be belt-tightening.

    Now, with that said, I can definitely say that SMU might have acted too hastily. With the challenges Dave has outlined with attracting students, how sustainable is a mass participation team sport such as football going to be at Saint Mary's, where 80% of their roster is from outside of the province? Football's becomning a more local game; Quebecers stay in Quebec, more Ontarians (with the exception of Toronto and Windsor) are playing for the local OUA school.

    Meantime, SMU's days as a national football power are behind it. The age limit, the increased competitiveness of OUA, the growth in Quebec, Nill leaving, all work against it. They'd be well-advised to scale back football to find savings, or explore a self-sufficient model.

    I can understand the decision since I understand the sacred calf here -- King Football.

  5. Also, the "you must not have kids" argument is pretty low. Please never go there again. That's such a terrible, judgmental statement.

    If it applied to everything, I could never write a obituary piece because I've never died!

  6. Note that, between the time Neate started to write his replies and when he posted them, I had already deleted the original comment.

    I left Neate's responses up because they are reasonable, and -- pay close attention now -- don't insult anyone, let alone like the original comment did.

    Hot tip for future comments, everyone: don't prove this equation correct.

  7. Guilty as charged. Sorry, not even close.

    Rob, I would have done the exact same thing, delete the post.

    Neate, do I feel bad because I slung some crap towards a biased person, no, I feel bad for the young ladies that will have to uproot their lives, who feel betrayed after giving so much loyalty to a school to have it thrown back in their faces that it isn't shared. Why, because they are the easy cut. If the NS Govm't did it to SMU, they did it to DAL, X, Acadia, MSV, KC, UCB, and US-A. Maybe DAL and X are next. It tells our young women that they are not worth the money, hockey is for men. Hockey isn't just for men. I'm ranting, and could go on but DK's acceptance or justification of this was 100% expected . Neate's obit of UNB's women's hockey demise was good, link that here.

  8. I feel bad, too, and everyone's biased. You are also correct in pointing out this was done since it's an "easy cut." That's precisely the point.

    I also think in an ideal word, your hockey program is the female and male teams. Same as soccer or basketball. That butts up against the fact hockey's a lot more expensive and you can't complete two games in less than four hours.

    David's not wrong in accepting or justifying the decision. A reality is that it would take ginormous genitalia to take on King Football. It's evident no one at Saint Mary's has the smarts, savvy or sensibility Drew Love did at Carleton in 1999.

    That's not a direct comparison. However, a lot of demographic factors are lining up against Saint Mary's ever getting back to what they were in football from 1999-2003. That's why they should be cutting there.

  9. I'm with Neate - football is a sacred cow at SMU. Even though their men's hockey team is more competitive, and more recently successful, Saint Mary's football seems to get more media coverage in metro Halifax. Some SMU, and Dal, hockey games aren't even staffed by the local daily, while multiple personalities will staff the big football game ...

    I agree, it would be nice for a change to see a school sacrifice their football team to keep say their women's hockey team, and Neate has enumerated lots of good reasons for doing it. But there is something about football and the perception (real or otherwise) that it has a big positive impact on alumni, and therefore donations to the school.

    And in case it wasn't clear in my original post, I'm not happy about SMU's decision in the least. I'm just resigned to the fact that we're going to see more and more of this kind of thing happen at Maritime universities unless and until their budgetary woes can be solved.