By Kristie Kahl
With the economy on its decline to the dumps, a number of sports programs have been cut around the nation. No worries sports fans, Rider has no intentions of cutting any sports nor athletic staff in the near future.
According to Athletic Director Don Harnum, you can rest assured that Rider’s athletic programs are not taking quite the hit that other universities have experienced.
As of Feb. 21, the University of Vermont was forced to cut the baseball and softball programs from the athletic department. The department was facing a $1.1 million gap between projected revenues and expenses, so something had to go. With the cut of the teams came the firing of five staff positions as well. This reorganization will impact 43 student athletes all together at the university, leaving them to either stay as just a student or transfer elsewhere.
Aren’t you glad Rider is in the clear? Granted, these schools come from larger numbers than Rider University, but to have to cut an entire sport, let alone two, is something any organization would rather pass on.
“Nobody wants to drop sports or have budget cuts; those aren’t good things to have to deliver to your staff,” Harnum said. “I think for the most part, we operate pretty responsibly, so there are not a lot of things you can give unless you drop things left and right.”
One aspect that Rider has on its side: the fact that it is not a state-funded school. If the state so chooses to cut a budget, big name schools are forced to make big changes. Northern Iowa recently cut its baseball program as a result of a 9 percent drop in state funding.
Although the poor economy has taken a toll on our pockets, it has only affected Rider athletics in a minimal way. According to Harnum, the biggest effect Rider has been suffering from is the inability to complete the improved facilities planned for the next few years. A turf field was scheduled to be completed by fall of 2009, but with lack of fundraising during these tough times comes lack of a field.
“It’s a pretty challenging fundraising environment right now,” Harnum said. “A lot of the money for that project is coming over a course of time from different areas of campus and through fundraising. We’ve made some inroads in fundraising but probably not enough at this time to have the field done for fall ’09.”
Even with hopes of someday having a Rider basketball stadium being put on hold, the economy has not affected the Athletic Department’s day-to-day operations.
Although I may not see the turf field or the new basketball stadium in my time left here at Rider, I have the confidence that the Broncs will play with new facilities a few years down the road.
According to Harnum, the department has had to pinch a few pennies here and there, particularly with travel, but Rider is looking safe for the long haul.
“We’re still optimistic,” Harnum said. “I think we’re just a little more cautious right now. It’s not full-steam ahead with all of your fundraising efforts, not with the economy the way it is.”
Since Rider is such a small school, dropping sports would not be in its favor. Like any school, Division I athletics bring students to this school through recruitment. If a student athlete loves Rider but can’t play here, then Rider just lost that student to another school in the MAAC. Besides the loss of potential students, it takes away from the school spirit of the university when a sport is dropped. Cutting programs would decrease enrollment, thus putting the school in a further bind with its current and future students.
Being a small school with smaller stadiums has actually been a profit for Rider. Instead of making up for the lack of a half-filled football stadium, the university is able to focus on its alumni, corporation and media relations. Rather than consistently trying to make up the revenue in return for the department’s expenses, the university “does Division I right,” according to Harnum.
“We don’t cut the corners and it’s not just ‘win at all cost,’” he said. “We’re not totally revenue driven either.”
Rather than worrying about revenue and filling stadiums, Rider prides itself in the fact that it has had the best year in ticket sales ever, playing to capacity each night in Alumni Gym, even though it does not compare in size like other schools.
The only way the future of the Athletic Department could go downhill is if the future of Rider starts to fall as well. As long as enrollment stays consistent and student athletes find a home as a Bronc, the department has nothing to worry about.
No need to fear, all of Rider athletics is still here.