Commentary | Play clean, McGill

This April, the administration restructured McGill Athletics. In the process, several teams that once received minimal funding and little support from the University now have neither – and in fact, have to pay to compete under the McGill name. Some teams, like wrestling, were cut despite the fact that they didn’t cost McGill a thing.

Until this year, Athletics was stratified into three varsity tiers that McGill supported to different degrees. Tier one was heavily favoured by the University in funding and facilities; tier two also garnered significant resources from the school; while tier three – varsity club teams like wrestling, Nordic skiing and ultimate frisbee – received paltry amounts of funding, leaving teams to raise money through their own means. With this year’s restructuring, tier three lost its varsity status and all support from McGill, including use of the varsity gym and participation in the tier three teams’ respective intercollegiate leagues.

It wasn’t until last spring, when McGill released its athletics budget, that some teams learned of the changes made by the administration. Now McGill Athletics claims it based its budget cuts on both earnings and winnings. McGill is offering its support only to the big-money sports teams like football, and leaving its former varsity clubs to fend for themselves because of their inability to bring in money, regardless of their success.

The University has also recently altered the structure of the Athletics Board that governs decisions made by the Executive Director of McGill Athletics. Over the summer, the administration revealed the board’s new structure, which changes the budget approval procedures and the accountability mechanisms on the administration. More alarming than these modifications to the Athletics Board structure is that the University made them without consulting students.

These decisions reflect a broader pattern in the administration’s behaviour. They have consistently taken unilateral decisions that affect student life. In this instance, tier-three team coaches only discovered that their groups had been cut when the schedule for the year was released and they were no longer listed. These teams give students the opportunity to form a community and the means to improve their physical and mental health in a cheap, fun way. Whether they were bringing in money or not, these teams tangibly enhanced student life, and that’s enough reason for the University to continue supporting them.

It is time for McGill to stand behind students. Athletics have long been a part of the university experience, akin to other clubs and activities. The administration is cutting back opportunities for a fuller student life. They need to know that students are not cash-cows to fund their financial endeavours. When taking decisions regarding the quality of student life, they have a responsibility to hold “broad-based consultations” with the student body, as the Principal’s Task Force on Student Life and Learning wrote in 2006. Student experience, not monetary gain, should be their priority.