Minnesota Budget Shortfalls Threaten St. Cloud Ski Team

Nathaniel HerzSeptember 28, 201010

Yet another collegiate ski program is on the chopping block.

Due to budget shortfalls in Minnesota, the St. Cloud State University cross-country ski program could be shuttered by the 2011-2012 season. The closure of that program is included in one of three cost-cutting measures being considered by university administrators, who will make a decision by December 6th.

“After the last couple of years, when a bunch of schools out west have gone down, it’s not what we want to hear,” said Head Coach Jeremy Frost.

Due to the economic downturn, collegiate programs have lost varsity-level funding at the University of Nevada and at Whitman College, in Washington, over the past two years. Both of those schools were members of the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association, which now includes just seven members.

St. Cloud’s ski team is part of the 11-member Central Collegiate Ski Association, and it is women’s-only: The program was added a decade ago as part of a gender-equity move, Frost said.

Its elimination is included in one of three proposals before the school administration, as part of an effort to close a $552,000 budget deficit for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The first proposal would leave all the university’s teams intact, instead relying on a combination of fundraising, administrative cutbacks, and increases in student fees to make ends meet.

A second option would eliminate the school’s football team, while the third proposal would cut the ski program, along with men’s golf, men’s swimming and diving, and men’s tennis.

According to documents released by the university, closing the ski program would save roughly $32,000 in 2011-2012—$25,000 in operating costs and $7,000 in scholarships. By comparison, cutting the football team would net the school $303,000.

As a full-time employee of the university, Frost coaches for half the year, and spends the rest of his time teaching health and physical education courses. He said his contract runs through the 2011-2012 school year, which leaves his job secure until then, regardless of the status of the ski team.

In an interview, Frost said that the program’s fate likely hinges on two factors: decisions by the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) and the St. Cloud student body.

Football is required for a school to be part of the NSIC, Frost said, and since St. Cloud is a member, the proposal to cut the football team would require the conference to amend its by-laws. The NSIC is currently examining those rules, Frost said, and it will make a decision on whether to change them by mid-November.

Any increases in student fees—which are included as part of all the plans—have to be approved by a student referendum, according to an article in the St. Cloud Times. That vote would also happen in mid-November—if it is authorized by the student government.

The final decision, though, is up to the St. Cloud administration, and Frost said he thought that their preference was to close the budget gaps without cutting any sports.

“I really believe that that’s the way they would prefer to proceed,” he said. But, he added, “it’s up to the students, [and] it’s also potentially affected by what the conference says.”

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Nathaniel Herz

Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.

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  • jmathieu

    September 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Go for door #2. Dump the football team. No brainer.

  • nordicguy

    September 29, 2010 at 8:23 am

    Lame jmathieu. This isn’t about which sport you like. Football prgrams are good for the community and good for the University. While many of his skiers would like XC to be a popular sport, it’s not. Football draws community interest and IMO is more enjoyable to watch than a college XC ski race. I hope the school goes with option one and continues all of the student-athlete opportunities they currently have.

  • savescsusports

    September 29, 2010 at 11:34 am

    Nordicguy, your right it is not about what sport you like or do not like, or the popularity of the sport, since if you ever visit St. Cloud during a football game you will find that the community does not come out to watch these games. The reason we need to save these sports is for the student athletes that put so much time and dedication to compete in something that they truly care about. The student athletes of SCSU truly will appropriate any support received in the endeavor to save athletics.

  • jmathieu

    September 29, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I am just thinking bigger picture and have the perspective of personal experience. Unfortunately, college sports have brought educational institutions into the entertainment industry with less thought going toward the mission of education. There is too much money to be made. I came from a state university that dropped their div. 1 ski team. The majority of the team was from that state. The majority of the football team came from other states. The high school skiers lost their opportunity to ski for their own state university. Yet the participation rate of high school skiing was not only high but of high quality. Several skiers qualified and raced in the NCAA’s during my 4 years. The ski team also had the highest GPA of any sports team. The football team had many players that failed to graduate. Meanwhile, soaking a budget of $1M per year. Sure, I agree, it was good entertainment for the community, but is that what college if for? It is not what I personally like or dislike. Skiing in this arena will never be a spectator sport like traditional team sports. My take on this is whether we are best serving the students. I am old enough to remember when UVM dropped their football team and the whiners were eventually swept under the rug and soon forgotten. If St. Cloud was in a non-traditional skiing state, say Virginia, I would be more supportive of dropping the ski team. Inversely, I would be hung if I suggested a school like Texas drop their football team (I did see a Longhorn hockey game this year and that was pathetic). When I hear that football (or any sport) is good for the school or community, I am old fashioned and think this is not what the school was meant for.

  • nordicguy

    September 30, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Fair enough, you have a right to your opinion. I love skiing and would hate to see any college program get axed. I also understand that there are many DI athletes that are enrolled in college for sports and not for the academics. I do not feel that this should be the way athletic departments are run.
    I would disagree with you that sports are not meant to be good for the community. What is the purpose of sport? I think it is to teach people the importance of teamwork, individual effort, dedication, fair play. These are all traits that make someone a good member of the community. I know many athletic teams and individual athletes also volunteer which benefits a local community.

    I had many friends in college that were on the football team that were good student athletes. Many of them were also two sport athletes participating in basketball, baseball, and track. They were academic all-americans and good members of the community. Just wanted to present to you differing view of football players.

  • nexer

    September 30, 2010 at 11:29 am

    There are currently three options under consideration.

    1) Eliminate football
    2) Eliminate football and three other sports
    3) Keep football and eliminate eight other sports

    Even going with #2 hardly puts a dent in the $12M shortfall the school will be facing for 2012. Skiing and sports is the least of its worries.

  • jmathieu

    September 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Nordic Guy: good points. Thanks. I understand the community value you point out. But I am also wondering if there is community value to a ski program. Example: I know of several groomed training loops that came into existence because of a local high school or college ski team. These loops are all open to the public. Another point is the best way to watch most ski races is to actually ski on the course, when allowed. Cannot think of another sport that has this unique feature. I know many parents of skiers who took up the sport because they wanted to watch their kids race. And these parents continued to ski after their kids left the nest. Skiing encourages participation, not spectating, and this is a gift to the community. But I realize it is not as exciting as a local football came for most.
    Nexer: And another way of looking at this problem is cost per athlete. The cost of major team sports can be pretty high compared to skiing, even though the participation of skiing is lower. But you are correct about the cost of the program compared to the overall budget. The shortfall is too great.

  • kwikgren

    September 30, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    There is tremendous community value to a ski program. A few years back, the Michigan Tech ski program was on the chopping block. The local ski community and Tech alumni rallied to support the ski program and the University administration had the vision to not only keep the program, but turn the ski trails into a world class ski venue, that has proved to be an asset to the community. The trails are now a tourist attraction, recruitment tool, and a valuable asset to a growing, progressive community. People like me want to live in or near Houghton in large part because of these ski trails. Now Michigan is also once again in a budget crunch and I hope the powers that be will realize the contributions of the ski program to the university and the local community and have the vision to continue to support it. I wish St. Cloud well in the challenges they face.

  • jdub

    October 1, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    When I was at SCSU 16 years ago, I don’t think the football team had much of a following. I was on the golf team, and that was a joke. (Meaning not much interest or competition for spots). Anyway, the ski team is kind of tough spot. I wouldn’t say St. Cloud is a big ski town, meaning that it has a lot of good areas to ski, even though it’s not far from the Mora Vasaloppet or the Twin Cities. The thing is, keeping the ski team or the swim team going is really not that much money, and these sports have such a positive impact on long term health that they should be kept around. (Of course health is not considered.)

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