A.D. makes recommendation, nordic skiing remains club

By Josh Springer

Two years ago, the athletic department and administration, without prior student notification, downgraded the nordic ski team from varsity to club status. The decision was made without student consultation, with then athletic director Irv Cross heading the process. For members of the 2003-2004 ski team, the decision was as a step back for the program.

Tim Lewandowski ’03, former team captain and mentor to the program after his graduation, was shocked by the initial decision to demote the nordic ski program. “The athletic department is not a democracy but that doesn’t mean students don’t have good ideas or should be left out of the process,” said Lewandowski. “Lowering Nordic skiing to club level definitely had a negative impact on the varsity athletes.”

However, a condition that accompanied the varsity demotion was that the nordic ski team’s club status would officially be opened for reevaluation after two years. It would then be the job of the existing athletic director to determine whether or not skiing would return to the varsity level, or remain a club sport.

Athletic Director Travis Feezell, who was hired this past summer, assumed the job of composing standards for department-sanctioned sports evaluation. Nordic skiing, as originally planned, was the first team to be scrutinized under Feezell’s new guidelines. Using the new criteria, Feezell made the recent recommendation to keep nordic skiing at club status. Unlike last time, no future reevaluation is planned.

Student athletes two years ago were extremely frustrated and discouraged not be included in the process of deciding the fate of nordic skiing. This time the process was no different. Why are athletes consistently not included in administrative decisions? When asked about the transparency issue in the decision-making process, Feezell responded by referencing the appeal procedure that is now offered. Whether or not this system of standards will help to raise nordic skiing in the future is in question.

Feezell submitted the formal recommendation to Dean of Students Laurie Hamre and President Brian Rosenberg, both of whom accepted Feezell’s conclusion. “President Rosenberg and Laurie Hamre have been outstanding supporters of sports here at Macalester,” Feezell said. “We in the athletic department have needs, but these must be balanced with the institutional needs. I’m trying to think globally [of the community] in my decision making.”

The nordic ski program has maintained a consistent roster size but it has not met the same level of participation as other varsity sports. Furthermore, two years ago when the athletic department was faced with making obligatory budget cuts, nordic skiing was by far the highest spending varsity team per capita, according to Associate Athletic Director Vanessa Seljeskog. “All programs had to be looked at during our budget shortfalls,” said Seljeskog. “We needed to cut back costs in every sport.”

Many factors contributed to the original decision to lower nordic skiing status. Transportation for the sport is particularly costly, as the team must chase snow during warm winter seasons. That expense, along with a list of other influential aspects impacted Feezell’s decision. There are not many Division III nordic ski programs across the country and the MIAC discontinued skiing as a varsity sport after the 2004 season. Additionally, nordic team’s demotion to club level had less impact on the nordic team than it would have had on other varsity programs. “Budget decisions are always hard for those who they impact,” Seljeskog said. “We could have handled the situation better in the past by more clearly opening dialog with students athletes, however, it ultimately would not have changed the conclusion.”

“The decision to keep nordic skiing a club sport at Macalester is not too drastic,” Feezell said. “Nordic is still here and has the ability to touch the lives of more students. As club sport, the team is more independent, which has its benefits.” While skiing may have not have suffered setbacks as great as other sports in the same situation, the status reduction has created some new realities for the team. While the team’s entry fees and transportation costs are still funded by the department, the skiers do not compete as much in NCAA meets. Moreover, the team’s season is cut short with regard to training as they do not train on campus until mid-January instead of beginning as early as November in past years.

Some students disagree with the administration’s viewpoint, saying that the demotion of the program to club level will attract less competitive skiers to Macalester inevitably hurting the team. “I wouldn’t be here today if I knew there wasn’t going to be a varsity nordic team,” said Jakob Wartman ’08, a news editor for The Mac Weekly. Wartman was the alternate for the Midwest Junior Olympic team this season.

“For nordic skiing to succeed as a club sport, the program is going to need a lot of administrative support,” said Lewandowski.

“I recognize the criticism but I still believe club programs can create a competitive base,” Feezell responded. Club sports at Macalester have thrived in the past and continued to do so currently. Men’s and women’s hockey this past season garnered a large amount of support from the student body along with increasing their roster sizes. Men’s water polo this past season qualified for the 2005 national collegiate water polo tournament.

Under Feezell’s new guidelines, for student athletes to propose the elevation of their sport from club to varsity level, they must follow a procedural method of appeal. This includes a rationale for elevation, rosters, schedules and competition results for the previous three years, a history of the teams’ coaching and practice situation, budget expenditures for the previous three years, a formal budget request for varsity status, and a potential varsity schedule.

Feezell, along with administrators, claimed that each sport is under regular and consistent informal evaluation, not necessarily for demotion, but so program budgets can continue to be effective and practical. A possible indicator for a formal reevaluation and demotion would be if there were new expenses in a specific sport that the department was not ready to support.

With the looming plans of an extensive new athletic building, the department has remained fiscally stressed. Yet, Feezell remains positive. “I am optimistic about the future of athletics here at Mac. Hopefully we can open more varsity sports in the future, that is why the objective process was designed,” Feezell concluded.