By Michael Kinney
Oklahoma Baptists University held out for as long as they. But on Monday the NCAA Division II institution announced it was going to have to make several large cuts to its athletic budget.
“In order to address the long-term financial stability of the university, the Board of Trustees, at its Nov. 6 meeting, approved reductions impacting every area of campus,” OBU President Dr. Heath Thomas said in an open letter. “In line with the university’s overall budget proposal, the OBU Athletics Department has been asked to reduce its annual operating budget by approximately $3 million.”
OBU officials said the only way they can shave that amount of money off its budget was to cut several varsity programs from its department start in 2021-22 school year. The programs impacted include men’s golf, men’s soccer, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis, and women’s lacrosse. That encompasses 130 student-athletes.
“As part of its commitment to the enduring financial health of the institution, university leadership conducted an exhaustive financial analysis to help departments identify potential cost-saving measures and other operational efficiencies to reduce the overall budget by the necessary amount,” Thomas stated. “After extensive discussions it became clear that reducing the number of varsity athletics programs provided the path forward to achieve the required financial benchmarks set forth by the Board of Trustees and chart a path toward long-term sustainability.”
Oklahoma Baptists joins Langston University as state institutions that have had to cut programs or cancel seasons due to financial issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University have also made financial cuts to their budgets and have asked coaches to take a reduction in pay.
The OBU teams affected will be able to compete in their upcoming seasons in the winter and spring. But after that, the programs will be discontinued going forward.
Students athletes can enter the transfer portal now or wait until after their season has completed.
“We will honor all existing scholarships for individuals who choose to complete their undergraduate degree within the standard four-year window,” said Thomas. “Students must continue to meet all NCAA progress-toward-degree requirements and maintain good academic standing and standards of student conduct.”
In deciding which sports to cut, OBU officials said they examined several factors. They included net financial impact on the institution, conference sport sponsorship requirements, regionality and conference affiliation, future capital/facility needs, current and future competitiveness and Title IX compliance.
OBU is expected to save $2.5 million in 2022. The savings will rise to $3.1 million after that, according to the university.
“The decision was announced following a thorough review of the athletics department’s operations, and extensive financial analysis by OBU leadership and external consultants,” Thomas said. “The review included a comprehensive examination of the department’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, as well as exhaustive financial analysis. As a result of the group’s findings, it was conclusively determined that the path forward for achieving the necessary budgetary reductions was the elimination of multiple varsity athletics programs.”
The cuts will leave the Bison with five men’s teams and five women’s teams in the Fall of 2021.
“While these reductions are painful, we believe they are nonetheless necessary to the long-term financial health of the university in general, and the athletics department in particular,” Thomas said. “Maintaining a sustainable number of varsity teams will increase the viability and strength of our remaining programs and allow OBU to redouble its commitment to all-around excellence in intercollegiate athletics.”
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